Fijian ants grow their own homes

HUMANS began planting crops about 10,000 years ago. Ants have been at it rather longer. Leafcutters, the best known myrmicine agriculturalists, belong to a line of insects that has been running fungus farms based on chopped-up vegetable matter for 50m years. By that yardstick even Philidris nagasau, a species of Fijian ant, is a newcomer to farming. It started cultivating plants only about 3m years ago. What distinguishes it is that it is growing not only food, but also homes. It was already known that P. nagasau lives in epiphytes (plants that grows upon other plants) called Squamellaria. But as Guillaume Chomicki and Susanne Renner of the University of Munich describe in this week’s Nature Plants, it also sows and nurtures them.

Dr Chomicki and Dr Renner discovered, in the course of study of the six species of Fijian Squamellaria, that P. nagasau worker ants harvest seeds from their epiphytic homes, carry them away, and then insert them into cracks in the bark of suitable trees. That done, they patrol the sites of the plantings to keep away herbivores, and also fertilise the seedlings as they…Continue reading

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