Handy Ants

Ants in your plants? 

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

Fixing up your fixer-upper? As every homeowner knows – the work NEVER ends!

Azteca ants make their homes in Cecropia trees. The trees offer them food and shelter. But what happens when they need a repair job?

William Wcislo from Panama’s Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute recruited local students to find out! 

The students drilled small holes into the Cecropia trees, then immediately measured the hole diameters. They did follow up measurements after two and a half hours, then a full day. 

Results? After two and a half hours, the holes had shrunk significantly! Twenty-four hours later, most holes were about FORTY percent patched up. And some had COMPLETELY closed! The ants used plant fibers and possibly sap from the tree to repair the damage. 

These ants defend themselves from outside threats, AND keep their tree hosts patched up. Every relationship is a two-way street! The ants’ handy D-I-Y skills are one way they can give back to Cecropia trees! 

Who needs a handyman when you have handy-ANTS??

Reference: Wcislo, A., Graham, X., Stevens, S., Toppe, J. E., Wcislo, L., & Wcislo, W. T. (2021). Azteca ants repair damage to their Cecropia host plants. Journal of Hymenoptera Research, 88, 61-70. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.88.75855