Probably the highlight of every biology class was when the teacher asked us to create a so-called ant farm. Remember these little contraptions? You would spend a lot of time building it, starting from choosing the right bowl, to collection dirt, and of course, digging around for ants in your backyard.
The ant farms were indeed great, as you could observe in minute detail how the busy ants dug up intricate tunnels and carried food through them.
Well, it would seem that some ant took farming seriously and started growing their own source of sustenance. Guillaume Chomicki is a botanist working at the Ludwig-Maximilian’s the University of Munich, and author of a paper detailing the habits of a species of farming ants, endemic to Fiji.
The Philindris nagasau or farming ants for short, have lived on Earth for more than 3 million years. According to the researcher’s paper, these ants did not change their way of living in all this time. Chomicki notes that although the farming ants aren’t totally different from common black ants, they do possess a certain trait that distinguished them from their cousins.
More specifically, the Philindris nagasau are able to cultivate their food by using their own fecal matter as fertilizer.
As the researcher notes, the farming ants commonly live inside tree trunks. The busy ants spend their time gathering the seeds of a specific plant called the Squemellaria. After gathering them, the farming ants take the seeds inside the trunk, where they deposit them in small cracks.
Furthermore, apart from gathering and placing the seed inside the tree trunks, the farming ants would use their fecal matter as fertilizer in order to nourish the plant. After the plant grows and starts producing fruits, the farming ants start gathering its seeds, and the process begins anew.
The researcher also noted that this is a symbiotic relationship. This assumption was supported by the fact that each Squemellaria plant he examined had farming ants.
Chomicki’s study was published in the journal Nature Plants. After reviewing his paper, many members of the scientific community argued that his findings are consistent with farming-like behavior discovered in other species of ants.
However, many have argued that this is the first species of ants that are capable of producing their own source of food by harvesting seeds and nourishing them using their own fecal matter.
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