Scientists have just made a tremendous discovery about ants that could totally change the way we think about them.
An amazing discovery about ants show that this species is a lot more fascinating than we realized. A new study shows that ants, or at least one variety of them, are actually hard-working farmers and not merely scavengers.
The study centered around Philidris nagasau, which lives in Fiji and apparently has been farming plants for 3 million years, longer than we’ve been aroun. This small black ant lives in and eats a plant called Squamellaria, which grows in the cracks and crevaces of trees and resembles a fungus, according to a statement from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen.
The study, published in the journal Nature Plants, indicates that scientists observed the ants moving back and forth between the plants they lived in, despite being part of the same colony. Apparently, the ants were gathering Squamellaria seeds and then leaving them in the cracks of the trees. Then, once the plants started growing, ants would fertilize them with their poop. And when the plants grew seeds, ants harvested them and began the process all over again.
In fact, every plant the researchers checked had ants in them.
“In contrast to other instances of symbiosis between plants and ants, the interaction between Squamellaria and Philidris nagasau has become so specialized that neither partner can survive on its own,” the statement reads. “The LMU researchers were able to date the beginnings of the ant-plant symbioses by using the degrees of difference between homologous DNA sequences in both plants and ants as independent molecular clocks. — Based on calibrated rates of mutation, one can work out approximately when the species involved in the interactions originated, and thus the earliest point at which the symbioses could have formed.
“The results indicate that the mutualistic relationship between Philidris and Squamellaria began about 3 million years ago, probably as a result of the evolution of reciprocally beneficial adaptations. The ants presumably “discovered” how to promote the growth and propagation of their hosts only after Squamellaria had adopted the epiphytic lifestyle.”