Ant species feed on different types of food material; like some wood, ants seem interested in eating honeydew. Aphids produce honeydew, so they are closely associated with ants to provide them with a continuous food source.
Why Do Ants Farm Aphids? Ants farm aphids because they have a symbiotic relationship and interact positively as they depend on each other. Moreover, they produce honeydew, a sugar-rich material that fulfills the nutritional requirement of ants. However, aphids need protection as these soft-bodies organisms cannot defend themselves when predators try to engulf them. So, ants cover the aphids colony, stop their wings’ growth, and restrict their movement by chemical secretion.
Ants are the social insects that take responsibility for protecting different insects, particularly aphids, as they have some needs that only these soft-bodies organisms can fulfill.
What are the reasons for ants to farm aphids?
There are many reasons for ants to farm aphids, as they have a special relationship that helps fulfill the needs of both organisms.
They have developed a symbiotic association with the soft-bodied organisms as they benefit from these tiny creatures; that is a healthy relationship of giving and taking.
This ecological relationship benefits both of these organisms as they partially depend on each other for their survival and nutrition.
The ants probably have multiple food resources as they can eat almost everything, but the aphids depend highly on these insects for their survival.
Sense of protection
Ants can protect aphids as the whole colony surrounds them so that no one attacks them.
You can find multiple insects around the colony having larvae and adult organisms that are not only protecting but supporting them to grow without any fear of dying.
When they feel secure and safe being present on the leaves, they can produce more honeydew and grow well.
Furthermore, ants can pick them up to another location that provides sufficient food or plant sap if the plant cannot provide adequate food.
Harvest aphid secretion
Aphids release honeydew or a sticky secretion that is sweet in taste, and the sweet smell attracts many insects to them.
It is released from the alimentary canal terminations in the form of drops when ants milk them by gently stroking their bodies using antennae.
These consume plant sap through xylem tissue and produce honeydew that helps feed their protectors, which are always on duty so that intruders do not disturb their colony.
Moreover, honeydew is a highly nutritious and sugar-rich food for ants as they can get more energy from sweet food items and store them as glycogen in their body.
Kill aphid predators
Many predators, like larger insects, including spiders, beetles, and lacewings, are always searching for a chance to attack the aphids.
These can pose a risk to their survival and engulf the tiny larvae of aphids that are in the growing stages.
Moreover, ants are responsible for their protection from attackers because they are somehow dependent on each other.
They can kill the predators by stinging with the stinger present on the bottom of their bodies and creating wounds that are painful to tolerate.
Furthermore, the predators avoid attacking larvae when they see them surrounded by an army of ants.
Keep aphid colonies closer
Keeping all the aphid colonies together is essential to avoid the risk of attack. It is easier to target their larvae when they are present at different locations, like different leaves of the same plant.
It is seen that larvae move fast on the leaves when there are no ants around them, but their movements get slower when these insects are present on them.
Accordingly, they release chemicals from their feet that can slow down their movement and keep them at a lesser distance.
It becomes easy for these protectors to control the colony and ensure safety. Moreover, they can produce honeydew at a single point that is easier to consume rather than collecting from different regions.
How do ants farm aphids?
Ants inhibit the growth of wings in aphids to stop them from flying.
These soft-bodied organisms having wings prefer to migrate toward other plants when their number increases and the food source is insufficient.
The ants do not like that they fly away and control their wing’s growth and cover them from all areas.
These want to control their movement and shift them one by one to another plant when the host plant cannot provide enough food or deteriorates.
Furthermore, they tranquilize whole colonies by releasing chemicals from their feet to retain them on the same plant. As a result, they secrete chemicals that can sabotage the wing’s growth.
Moreover, they can also bite off their wings when they are growing at a fast rate, which helps immobilize aphids.
They do not compromise on their staple food or honeydew that is rich in nutrients, as they could die due to starvation.
How to get rid of ants and aphids?
It is not difficult to get rid of ants and aphids on the plants that are highly infested with these insects and facing issues in growth and sustainability.
In addition, they can damage the plant structure badly as they feed on the sap and consume plant nutrients leading to permanent damage.
Soapy water having detergent mixed in the water can effectively remove them; that only requires washing the leaves and stems regions.
Moreover, you can prepare a spray solution having cayenne pepper mixed with dishwashing soap and water to repel them as it has a foul odor.
High-pressure water spray is only a good solution when these insects have not attacked the plant.
Can aphids live without ants?
Ants have multiple options to get food and target smaller insects by stinging with their strong mandibles and chewing them.
However, aphids are dependent on these vigilant protectors as they have a risk of attack from wasps, ladybirds, etc., which have a negative impact on their survival.
So, these cannot survive without being enslaved by an army of ants around their colony as they cannot defend themselves against predators.
The presence of adult and larvae attract these insects, or they cannot live without having any external support; otherwise, they would die before they become adults.