One of the most numerous and probably one of the busiest creatures on the planet, Ants, seem to be at the helm of a lot of things transpiring not just in the world of insects, but in the whole ecosystem at large.
Ants build their long tunneled homes, enabling very efficient movement of air through the soil, thus aerating them. The also act as very efficient cleansing agents, by cleaning up the surroundings of dead and decaying matter. They too partake the role of foot soldiers, providing protection to a lot of plants, trees and many of the other invertebrates and they are a source of food for a number of insect eating birds, mammals and other insectivorous arthropods as well. In all, ants, seem to have a very important role to play in maintaining the overall well-being of the ecosystem and the environment around us.
A lot of other arthropods depend on ants in a variety of ways. Many of them take to ants as a source of protection,some, in their early stages of life, while, some, through their entire life span. Many others depend on them as a source of food too.
Those, that depend on ants for protection, garner their help, either by impersonating as one of them or by providing something that the ants need, in return for their protection.
True to the idiom ‘There’s safety in numbers’, impersonating an ant seems to have a lot of benefits. It becomes very easy for the impersonator to mingle and disappear among the huge colony of ants , thus avoiding predation or in some cases, helping, make an easy meal of the ants too. This is also known as ant mimicry or in more technical terms, myrmecomorphy.
A lot of spiders and mantis nymphs, mimic ants, anatomically and behaviorally to enjoy a free passage amongst them. Such ant mimic spiders move around very much like ants, raising their front pair of legs to look like the antennae of ants. They are truly an amazing mimic of ants..!….
More on Ant mimicry here - Karthik’s Journal and here - Want to be a Nomad ….
An Ant mimic spider……….they so closely imitate an ant both structurally and behaviorally…
Ant mimic spider….again….
But, time and again, the ants, do seem to realize that there is an impostor amongst them :-) . Here’s one which has a stand off with an ant mimicking spider.
The Stand off…..
The other way to gain ant’s protection is by providing them with something in return, like this group of arthropods which include insects like the aphids, mealybugs etc…
These insects, being, sap suckers, produce a sugary secretion called honeydew, from the excess of plant sap that the feed on. This is loved by ants. The ants in return, vigorously tend to them and drive off predators that come to feed on these insects. This is also known by the term mutual-ism in the natural world, where by, both the parties involved in such a relationship are mutually benefited in some way. You can read more about this in a nice blog post here - My Pensieve - Quid Pro Quo
Ant tending to mealybugs. If you look closely, you can see the honeydew coming from the mealybug.
Ant tending to Aphids…..
Apart from these, the ants also carry on with their daily chores of collecting food for their young, cleaning their homes and its surroundings of dead and decaying matter.
Ant carries one of its dead members…..
A tiny creature like an ant, has such a busy life and so many major roles to play in the natural world. These are just a few straws from the whole hay stack of things that these enterprising ants get done…….So, the next time, when you look at ants, I guess, you would look at them with a little more respect…, unless, you are badly bitten by them ;-) ….