How Do Ants Farm Aphids? | Ants Help Aphids To Destroy Garden Plants
What is an aphid?
Aphids are among the most destructive insect pests for almost all garden plants – ornamentals, vegetables, fruits and greenhouse. These tiny insects, also know as greenfly and blackfly, weaken plants by sucking their sap. They can also transmit plant viruses. They live on the undersides of leaves and stems of plants and are most active from spring to late summer. Because they reproduce very quickly they can overtake a garden if left untreated.
What is the relationship between aphids and ants?
As they feed on sap, aphids secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. This is a favourite food of ants and can make up 90% of their diet. Ants also regurgitate the honeydew when they return to their nests to feed the queen and larvae. To have an inexhaustible supply of honeydew, ants farm aphids. In return ants offer aphids protection from predators such as lacewings, ladybirds, wasps and hoverfly larvae. The two species therefore have a symbiotic relationship as they both benefit from this arrangement, although aphids are subservient to ants. A large number of ants on or amongst plants usually indicates a large infestation of aphids.
How do ants farm aphids?
Ants herd the aphids together on plants, keeping them captive by releasing chemicals through their feet that subdue the aphids to ensure they remain under their control. They ‘milk’ the aphids by stroking their abdomen to coax them to secrete their honeydew. As well as protecting the aphids from predators, the ants move them to the juiciest parts of the plant or to a new plant to feed upon.
What are the symptoms of an aphid infestation?
- Stunted growth
- Curled or distorted leaves
- Deformed fruit and flowers
- Sticky substance on which black sooty moulds can grow
Why get rid of aphids and ants?
If you treat the aphids before the ants have started to farm them you can prevent mass destruction to your garden plants. However, if the ants have already established farms with herds of aphids, it’s necessary to treat both the aphids and ants to stop your garden from being completely destroyed.
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