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May 26, 2020
I do hope you had a blessed Memorial Day, and weekend.
Inches of rain a little more than a week ago, and now the plants are dropping from thirst.
Two short weeks ago we had some record cold temperatures and a few snow flurries.
Now we are in the mid, to upper 80's F.
Finally saw our first hummingbird last week Monday.
She is a regular now (I've seen a male Ruby-throat also).
Tasks are slowly getting caught up around here.
More businesses are slowly opening, yet the governor's stay at home order has been extended to June 12.
(Don't you enjoy watching a cloud move and change shapes? Me too.)
Every now and then, I mention symbiotic relationships.
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of
The living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms (as in parasitism or commensalism).
A relationship between Bees and Flowers is probably one you are most familiar with.
Both benefit greatly.
Bees get nectar and pollen, while the flowers are pollinated, insuring the next generation of plants.
God created several special relationships between plants and animals.
Animals and animals.
Plants and plants,
Insects and plants, and so on.
The world is full of symbiosis.
Here is a special relationship.
I don't know who spends the time on these studies, but I have seen this from time to time.
However, I never gave it a second thought.
Ants and aphids share a well-documented symbiotic relationship.
This which means they both benefit mutually from their working relationship.
Aphids (as do some other insects), produce a sugary food for the ants.
In exchange, ants care for and protect the aphids from predators and parasites.
(A new study reveals that ants carefully select the right aphids for their herds.)
Aphids Produce a Sugary Meal:
Aphids are also known as plant lice.
They are very small sap-sucking insects that collect the sugar-rich fluids from host plants.
Aphids are also the bane of farmers the whole world over.
They are also known crop destroyers.
Aphids must consume large quantities of plant fluids to gain adequate nutrition.
The aphids then excrete equally large quantities of waste, called honeydew.
This becomes a sugar-rich meal for ants.
(Cardinals enjoy a fruity treat as well.)
Ants Turn Into Dairy Farmers:
As you may have experienced, where there is sugar, there is bound to be ants.
Research has discovered that some ants are so hungry for the aphid honeydew, that they will actually "milk" the aphids to make them excrete the sugary substance.
The ants stroke the aphids with their antennae, stimulating them to release the honeydew.
Some aphid species have lost the ability to excrete waste on their own and depend entirely on caretaker ants to milk them.
I can't imagine sitting there to record this relationship between insects.
(Male Red-Belly Woodpecker.)
Aphids in an Ant's Care:
Aphid-herding ants make sure aphids stay well-fed and safe.
When the host plant is depleted of nutrients, the ants carry their aphids to a new food source.
If predatory insects or parasites attempt to harm the aphids, the ants will defend them aggressively.
Documentation shows ant attacking Ladybugs and other predatory insects.
Some ants even go so far as to destroy the eggs of known aphid predators like ladybugs and lacewings.
Some species of ants continue to care for aphids during winter.
Ants will go as far as to carry the aphid eggs to their nests for the winter months.
They store the precious aphids where temperatures and humidity are optimal, and move them as needed when conditions in the nest change.
In spring, when the aphids hatch, the ants carry them to a host plant to feed.
A well-documented example of this mutualistic relationship of a corn root aphid, and their caretaker cornfield ants.
Corn root aphids, as their name suggests, live and feed on the roots of corn plants.
At the end of the growing season, the aphids deposit eggs in the soil where the corn plants have withered.
The cornfield ants collect the aphid eggs and store them for the winter.
Smartweed is a fast-growing weed that can grow in the spring, in the cornfields.
Cornfield ants carry the newly hatched aphids to the field and deposit them on the temporary host smartweed plants so they can begin feeding.
Once the corn plants are growing, the ants move their honeydew-producing partners to the corn plants, their preferred host plant.
And the cycle renews.
(wild Dogwood in bloom.)
Here is something I never knew.
Ants Enslave Aphids:
While it appears the ants are generous caretakers of aphids, ants are more concerned about maintaining their steady honeydew source than anything else.
Aphids are almost always wingless, but certain environmental conditions will trigger them to develop wings.
If the aphid population becomes too dense, or food sources decline, aphids can grow wings to fly to a new location.
Ants, however, do not look favorably upon losing their food source.
Ants can prevent aphids from dispersing.
Ants have been observed tearing the wings from aphids before they can become airborne.
Also, a recent study has shown that ants can stop the aphids from developing wings and to impede their ability to walk away.
There you go, more than you cared to know about ants and aphids.
Well, it's time to fly for now.
Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.
(Chickadee and house)
"Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
Do not be discouraged,
For the Lord your God
Will be with you wherever you go.”
"Treat the earth well:
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our
Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb.
Your friend indeed,
Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.
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