The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

!!!Ant Update!!!

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!

7 responses to “!!!Ant Update!!!

  1. myrmecos April 14, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    Nice! I’m going to disagree with your identification, though, which is very close but not quite there.

    Citronella ants are a small clade(Acanthomyops) nested within the larger genus Lasius, identifiable by a reduced palp count and (usually) a completely shiny integument with few appressed hairs.

    Your ants are certainly Lasius, but they look too velvety to be Citronella ants. There are several of these small yellowish species- I might pick L. nearcticus or L. flavus for yours. If you were to open a nest of true Citronella ants you’d notice an obvious, heavy citronella odor as if someone just opened a perfume bottle.

    • TGIQ April 14, 2010 at 7:00 PM

      Thank goodness a voice of reason chimed in before I made a fool of myself! (Oops, too late! Told you I suck at ants!) 😛 To be honest, I was on the fence about it. I made a point of taking a really good sniff when I found this bunch and couldn’t detect anything lemony.

      So this aphid-farming business, it’s prevalent in the genus?

      • myrmecos April 14, 2010 at 7:04 PM

        There are a lot of Lasius species, and they’re not always that easy to tell apart. Interestingly, the last thorough revision (excluding the Citronella ant clade) was done by E. O. Wilson himself, as his Ph.D. dissertation in the 1950’s.

        As to the subterranean aphids, the association is rampant throughout the genus. I would argue it is one of the defining characteristics. Definitely worth watching.

        • TGIQ April 14, 2010 at 7:09 PM

          “the last thorough revision (excluding the Citronella ant clade) was done by E. O. Wilson himself, as his Ph.D. dissertation in the 1950’s. ”


          The aphid thing is pretty darn cool. Had I not been reading about the Citronellas yesterday (where I saw the bit about the root aphids mentioned), I probably would have overlooked or misinterpreted what was going on.

  2. Pingback: Circus of the Spineless #50 « Arthropoda

  3. Adrian Thysse May 3, 2010 at 10:42 PM

    Great sequence! These interactions are interesting, and once more you have given me something to look out for.

    • TGIQ May 4, 2010 at 7:15 PM

      I’m glad I’ve come up with another worthy treasure hunt, Adrian. I hope you’ll share your findings if you come up with something!

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