Delectable weavers!

For Asian weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina), a tree is like a city. They run on their invisible pheromone highways on branches of the tree,  from one ‘room’ of their house to another. You just can’t help noticing their houses–leafy and silky–no less than any architectural beauty. Their nest making involves a team of ants pulling leaves together, while an ant squeezes a larva (an ant baby) to produce threads of silk which she uses to weave the leaves together (and thus the name, weaver ants).

 (not my video)

These master weavers are pretty aggressive and are good at biological pest control: they protect the host plant from many insects (studied here and a detailed review here). However, this also means that it decreases the flower-visiting rate of various pollinators.

“But the ants themselves can act as pollinators”, you might ask.

It turns out that it is rare. A possible reason can be the pollen inhibition function of antibiotics that the ants produce. These antibiotics are produced by them to fight pathogenic microbes. Unfortunately, this also reduces different functions of the pollen, leading to reduced percentage germination, short pollen tube formation etc. Furthermore, they are not aggressive towards all insects. In fact, they are ‘friends’ with a few. They interact with honeydew-producing scale insects, larvae of butterfly etc. In this interaction, ants get honeydew from them, and in return they protect them from predators. Ironically, sometimes they cannot protect themselves from hungry people!

Some people enjoy these ants and their larvae as a delectable dish. In fact, farming them is suggested to be highly profitable.

Have you ever tasted them? You might want to take a closer look at them, the next time you are in your garden.

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