|THE METROPOLITAN NATURALIST
| Ants Tending to a "Herd" of Leafhoppers
Humans like to think that our ability to farm food is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of
the animal world. But the first farmers may have been insects.
Ants are known to farm both animals and plants. Ants known as Leaf-Cutter Ants snip off pieces of
leaves, which the ants carry into their mounds. In the dark damp of the ant mound, the ants grow fungi
which they eat. In Central America there are that ants live on Acacia Trees, where they protect the tree
which provides food and shelter for the ants.
Ants also farm animals. Aphids, Scale Bugs, and Leafhoppers are tended to by ants who eat a sugary
secretion made by these livestock. Insects such as Aphids, Scale Bugs, and Leafhoppers eat the sugary
sap of plants. The high sugar content of the sap would disrupt the water balance of these insects, so the
excess sugar is secreted in a liquid known as honeydew. Ants tend to these insects, protect them from
predators, and even practice selective breeding to maintain a herd with sweeter honeydew. (see
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180206090715.htm for more on this.)
A new area of study is the relationship between bacteria, ants, and crops. Some researchers believe
that ants may provide protection to their crops against disease as well as protecting against herbivory
and competition from weeds.
These are often called Praying Mantis because of their habit of
holding the front feet together as if in prayer. These, I believe, are
Chinese Mantids. Brought to this country from Asia for pest control,
the Chinese Mantid has become well established and more
common than the smaller native species.
Swarming Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)
These honeybees are in the process of
forming a new hive. Called "swarming",
the queen bee leaves the hive to find a
new home and start a new colony. Some
workers stay behind to raise a new queen
and continue to maintain the old hive. This
swarm appeared to have left a hive that
was kept in the Bragg Nature Center for
educational purposes and is establishing
a new hive in a hollow oak tree.
Honey bees have almost disappeared in
the Baltimore-Washington area in recent
years. In fact the decline in honey bees
has been seen almost worldwide.
In the past Varroa mites were blamed for
the virtual elimination of feral (wild) bee
colonies here and are a major problem for
kept bees in apiaries. Varroa mites (Varroa
destructor and Varroa jacobsoni) are
parasites of honey bees. More recently a
mysterious loss of colonies has been
seen, called "Colony Collapse Disorder".
Colony collapse disorder has been
reported from North America, Europe, and
Asia. The bees mysteriously disappear as
though they just leave and never come
back. Another unusual characteristic of
this disorder is that the honey is left in the
hive and remains there untouched by
scavengers and honey thieves.
Many possible causes for colony collapse
disorder have been suggested including
electromagnetic radiation from cell
phones and pesticides. The pesticide
Pandora sphinx moth catterpillar (Eumorpha pandorus)
I can't imagine an uglier animal. This large brownish caterpillar with white spots has a cryptic
head, appearing as though the head end is the tail end.
This insect is well camouflaged as a green twig. Stick insects are herbivores, eating leaves
of trees and shrubs.
Imidacloprid appears to be a likely candidate at this
time. Imidacloprid causes confusion in insects and
may interfere with the orientation and
communication abilities of honeybees, resulting in
the bees leaving the hive to forage and not being
able to find their way home. This would explain the
disappearance of the bees without any bodies in or
near the hive.
Our once familiar honeybee is not indigenous to
North America, but was brought from Europe to
provide honey and to fertilize agricultural crops.
Honey bees have become important in fertilizing
both wild and cultivated plants since their