Ants and Aphids

Ants and aphids have been in pestilential proportions this year and many a grumpy letter, phone-call or blog comment has been made, looking for possible solutions to the problem. This post is not about that. The observant among you may have noticed, muttering as you turn over yet another branch on your formerly thriving elder or ninebark (insert infested plant of choice), that ants and aphids seem to go together. Some may have wondered what was going on and perhaps have even blamed ants for some of the damage. Here is one reason ants and aphids co-inhabit:

Sipping the Aphid Dew
Sipping the Aphid Dew (click to enlarge)

You could think of the ants as pastoralists and the aphids as the livestock. In this case, the aphids provide the ants with ‘honey dew’ , the romantic name for aphid excretions. In return, the aphids get protection from the ants, who do their best to drive away predators and sometimes move the aphids to new ‘pastures’. In this sequence you can see the ant prod or stroke the aphid, who obligingly provides a drop o’ the pure. The ant picks it up, imbibes it, and then moves on to another source. So next time you see these two in tandem, stifle the curses and ponder for a while on this amazing example of symbiosis.

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