Frenemy Ants

Hey, ants – can’t we all just …get along?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Not all ants are after your picnic basket. Some species are humble fungus farmers. Others are parasitic freeloaders. These social creepers come over and eat the farmer ants’ crops with no dinner invite! They even eat larvae for extra protein! Yet, farmer ant colonies tolerate these intruders year after year. What gives?

Professor Rachelle Adams of Ohio State University wondered. Her team put these two types of ants together in a lab to see why they make nice.

Turns out, the social parasites carry a potent and smelly venom. Farmer ants recognize this smell and politely leave the parasites alone. Why? Because their venom is deadly against a third, MORE dangerous ant species. These disastrous ants can destroy an ENTIRE colony!

It’s a classic case of, the enemy of my enemy is my ….frenemy? Farmers produce enough fungus to feed everyone. In return, their colony is guarded against a deadly intruder.

It’s no picnic! Or I guess, in a way, it is.