We encounter ants so often in our daily life that we tend to ignore them. However, when they become bothersome, we try to eliminate them. We do very little to learn something about these social and industrious creatures.
Most ants live in a society like we do, and also indulge in activities that are familiar to us. Did we know that ants are hired as security guards by caterpillars belonging to certain butterflies?
The larva of the Common Cerulean butterfly enlists the services of certain ants for its protection. The ants take care of the larva and even get a payment for the services rendered in the form of a sweet tasting liquid that the larva produces.
Ants also have a very similar relationship with aphids and treehoppers (small insects that feed on plant sap). The ants herd the aphids and ‘milk’ them for the sweet liquid.
Ants share relationships with plants too. A classic example is the relationship with the African Bull’s Horn Acacia. The ants make a hole in the stout thorns of this tree. They use the hollow so created, as a nest. Since just one hollow is not sufficient for the entire colony, they use the thorns over much of the tree. The ants feed on the nectar provided by special glands on the acacia’s stems. In addition, the ants also feed on the small packets of nutritious food provided by the acacia placed and on the tips of the trees leaflets. In return for this favour, the ants patrol the entire tree and rid the tree of lodgers and parasites while also keeping grazing animals at bay!
If only we took a little time to look for and tried to understand these relationships, we can enjoy many of these instances even in our own little gardens.