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Discovery Magazine 9/1/2010

Ant Farmers and their Aphids

Have you ever been to a dairy farm? If you have, you know that dairy farmers take very good care of their cows. Since cows produce milk, and humans love to drink milk, cows and humans can help each other. They can have a symbiotic relationship in which humans feed, care for, and protect the cows. In return, the cows produce milk that helps keep humans healthy and strong.

Did you know that humans are not the only farmers in the world? In fact, God created certain kinds of ants to be good farmers as well. What do ants farm? Do they farm cows or goats? No. They aren’t big enough to farm animals like that. Instead, ants farm much smaller insects called aphids. Most aphids are very small, much smaller than the ants that farm them. Furthermore, aphids have very few natural defenses. They do not have powerful jaws like ants, and most aphids cannot fly away or run very fast to escape predators. That means that aphids can really use some protection from bugs like ladybugs and lacewings that eat them.

That is where ants enter the picture. They protect the aphids from other insects that attempt to eat them. Since ants can move quickly, are very strong, and have powerful jaws, they provide wonderful protection for the aphids. In return, the aphids give the ants something that the ants want. Aphids suck juice out of plants in order to get nitrogen. To get enough nitrogen, they have to “drink” a lot of plant juice. When their bodies take the juice in, they take out the nitrogen, and get rid of the sugars that their bodies do not use. The “left-over” sugary part of the juice that aphids excrete is called honeydew. If you know anything about ants, you know that they love sugary substances. It just so happens that the honeydew that aphids send out of their bodies is the perfect, nutritious meal for ants. The ants gently “milk” the aphids with their antennas and the aphids give them honeydew.

The amazing symbiotic relationship between ants and aphids cannot be explained by evolution. Only God could design creatures like ants and aphids that can work together in such wonderful ways.

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