Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally published on April 2, 2014. Enjoy!
It might surprise you to learn that humans aren’t the only animals that grow their own food. From leaf cutter ants that cultivate underground fungi farms to fish that harvest crops of algae, check out these eight amazing animal agriculturists.
When it comes to animal gardeners, no species can rival the leaf cutter ant. Collecting leaves to use as manure for their complex underground fungi farms, leaf cutter ants have been growing their own food for up to 50 million years.
Specialized workers called mediae forage around for plant material — they have been known to strip a citrus tree clean in a single day — which they lug back to the nest. Then minims chew them up, compost them and feed the leaves to the fungi in one of the most elaborate forms of insect agriculture ever documented.
Photo credit: PeterAustralis
Bowerbirds and their potato bushes are the first known example of the cultivation of a nonfood plant by a nonhuman species. They construct elaborate nests, also known as bowers, from twigs which they then decorate with various objects to attract the females.
One of the most desired object by females is the purple berry of the potato bush. The more berries the male features on his bower, the better his mating success. As males don’t tend to build their nests in areas where the berries grow, they throw the disheveled berries outside the nest. By the time the bower is a year old, they usually have a few dozen bushes growing nearby, giving them more opportunity to impress the ladies.
3. Ambrosia beetles
Carving tunnels into decaying tree trunks, the ambrosia beetle carries fungi in special receptacles on its body and deposits the spores into hand-built chambers. The fungi then grows by drawing nutrients from the wood. The beetles carefully tend to their crops. Once their larvae are fully grown, they fly off to bore into new trees and restart the process.
Termites are famous for having one of the most complex social systems in the animal kingdom. While they may be incredibly small animals, colonies are able to work together to create huge nests.
And those nests just happen to be amazingly precise fungus growing farms. Termites create chambers which have the perfect amount of heat and airflow required to grow fungus, which is their primary food source.
As the only known fish to engage in agriculture, damselfish are extremely protective over their gardens. Growing a variety of algae, which is notoriously weak compared to other species — and one that only seems to survive within the territories of the damselfish — these loyal tillers work hard to defend their favored food.
These feisty fish have been known to attack other creatures that dare to swim too close, including human divers.
6. Marsh snails
Marsh snails are another fungus farming animal who have developed a way of ensuring that a readily available food source is never far away. Living in abundance in the Southeastern United States, these small mollusks encourage fungal growth on dead cordgrass leaves by cutting grooves into them with their radula. Having created the perfect growing environment for their favorite fungi, some marsh snails have also been observed fertilizing the leaves with their feces.
7. Spotted jellyfish
The spotted jellyfish is an expert algae farmer, and the creature uses its own body tissues as the growth chamber. During the daylight hours, spotted jellyfish spend the vast majority of their time orientating themselves to catch the most amount of sunlight. The photosynthetic crop flourishes inside their internal gardens, giving the jellyfish an unlimited supply of fresh algae to consume.
8. Yeti crab
Not everyone needs a garden to grow their own grub. Yeti crabs choose to farm their food on their own arms! Video taken by submarine revealed the crabs dining on bacteria dwelling on their arms by using highly specialized hairy mouth appendages.
Known for waving their claws slowly and rhythmically, scientists first thought this behavior was a tactic employed to keep others at a distance, but we now know that the claw swaying helps to wash nutrients over the bacteria, essentially fertilizing them.
Photo Credit: Eric Kilby/Flickr