ant-aphid mutualism | Don't Forget the Roundabouts
This sticky resin is a favorite food of ants, who actually “milk” the aphids for it by stroking their abdomen. The relationship between aphids and. If you have, you know that dairy farmers take very good care of their cows. The amazing symbiotic relationship between ants and aphids cannot be explained. Chemicals on ants' feet tranquilise and subdue colonies of aphids, light on the complex relationship between ants and the colonies of aphids.
Ants Milk Aphids | Dairy Moos
Ants are very clever creatures. They basically have a mutually beneficial relationship with each other. The ants milk the aphids by stroking their antenna on the aphids. The aphids then eject honeydew for the ants.
The honeydew is high in sugar which ants obviously love. By taking care of the aphids the ants have a great source of food. The ants even make sure the aphids are fed.
Eventually when the aphids run out of food, the ants will bring them to another area to where they can get food. The ants also protect their herds from dangers like dangerous predators like ladybugs, just like dairy farmers protect their herd from dangers. Dairy farmers and ants have a lot in common. We take care of the cows, feed them, and protect them from a dangerous world, and in return the cow provides us with nutrition.
Not just any kind of nutrition though, but nutrition that is optimized for maximum absorption and effectiveness for our bodies. The cow is often called the foster mother of the human race, and rightly so. She has provided us with a great source of nutrition.
A very fine specimen with a very long stylet; presumably this fed on the trunk of trees. Photo from Ross Not all aphids in amber are as easy to identify as the two specimens above.
The example below is why I have such a great admiration for palaeoaphidologists. I am told that this is an aphid. I have written earlier about the close relationships that many aphids have with ants and it seems from the number of times ants and aphids have been found in close proximity in amber inclusions, that this association has been in existence for at least 73 million years especially with Germaraphis dryoides Heie, ; Perkovsky, Ant and aphid in amber.
Aphid in amber with nematode parasite Poinar, What can we learn from these amber inclusions?
First, by comparing them with modern aphids, we can make inferences about their life styles. As Ole Heie pointed out, aphids with clawed tarsi feet and long mouth parts are almost certainly not only to be tree dwellers, but ones that fed through the bark on the stems or trunks.
Ants Milk Aphids
Aphids that live on the underside of leaves need neither of these adaptations. Are there any other inferences to be made? I have already pointed out that, the fossil evidence suggests the ant-aphid mutualism has been long-established. Fossil aphids also allow us infer that as aphids are largely found in temperate zones, the climate in those sites where amber is easily found must also have been temperate when they were trapped by the then, fresh tree resin Heie, Palaeobiologists have attempted to reconstruct ancient ecosystems from fossils including insects.
A recent and innovative study comparing arthropods found in trapped in modern tree resins, sticky traps and Malaise traps with those in fossil amber suggests that amber inclusions reflect the insects closely associated with trees but not necessarily the overall community Kraemer et al. Not all amber is real amber.
Plastic is often used as fake amber and is sold with insect inclusions or as jewellery.
An easy way to test if it is plastic or amber, is to see if it floats in a saturated salt solution, if it does it is probably amber. More difficult to detect, is fake amber that has been produced by melting down real amber or copal, and then had modern insects embedded in it while it is still liquid.
If your insect inclusion is very nicely and symmetrically arranged, then you can be sure it is a fake. Not all such inclusions are sold as genuine, most openly advertise exactly what they are; I have several, gifts from families and students.
Modern insect embedded in plastic. Spolia Zoologica Musei Hauniensis, Copenhagen.