April 14, 2010
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I came across another colony of my Little-Orange-Non-stingies under another rock this afternoon, and what I witnessed confirms my suspicion that these are indeed Citronella Little-Orange-Non-stingy ants of the genus Lasius (Ok, so I had nothing to do with it. Thanks, Alex!!!). Here’s how the scene unfolded:
An aphid...under a rock?
Yes, that’s what it looks like: a plump, pale green aphid under a rock. There were several, actually, all supping on a slender white root.
The aphid starts to leave...but wait! Who's this?
It finally dawns on the aphid that something is amiss…er, missing (its rock). It starts to lumber off in search of a shadier nook. But wait! Someone is in hot pursuit! Why, it’s our friend Little-Orange-Non-stingy! What’s SHE up to?
How rude! The little aphid is hoisted in the air by careful mandibles!
Interestingly, the aphid doesn’t seem all that concerned: it tucks in its legs and antennae, becoming a streamlined little package (well, as streamlined as an aphid can reasonably hope to become). A few minor adjustments, and LON-s quickly squirrels its bundle down an entrance hole.
What is our little aphid’s fate? Will it become food these hungry ants? Hardly!
What we have here is a REALLY COOL example of the mutually beneficial arrangements between many species of ants and aphids. This is just the first time I’ve seen it happen UNDERGROUND. These ants actually farm these root aphids; in exchange for their protection from predators (and unforeseen disasters like Geeks Who Lift Rocks), they are granted delicious meals of sweet honeydew, which the aphid secretes during feeding. Mutualism FTW!