How Predator Ants are Saving Our Planet
While many are used to thinking of ants as pests (especially during the summertime), new research published in British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology says not so fast. Ants are actually pest controllers. They’re efficient, sustainable and safe, and these little guys are making a big impact on our planet.
Ants as Predators
Although the idea of ants as predators may seem laughable, researchers suggest that everything from cocoa to cedar crops can benefit from these small pest controllers. Additionally, ants are way cheaper and safer than chemical alternatives.
What makes ants so special?
1. They’re (almost) everywhere. If you’ve felt overwhelmed by a home ant invasion, you’re not alone. Ants exist on every continent, minus Antarctica, and there are a jaw-dropping 12,000 species of ants worldwide! In fact, it’s believed that the “mass of all ants on Earth is similar to that of human.”
2. Okay, you wouldn’t know it from looking at them, but ants are really good predators. They may be small, but they’re mighty. True story: an ant can lift up to 20 times its own body weight — that’s like a second grader picking up a car. While they’re not taking down elephants, ants will hunt worms, spiders and insects that feast on crops. Like wolves, ants are cooperative hunters, and they work together to take down larger prey, like lizards. It has even been suggested that ants have consumed more meat than lions, tigers and wolves combined (oh my!).
3. Ants are low maintenance. According to the study write-up on Science Daily,
“All farmers need to do is collect ant nests from the wild, hang them in plastic bags among their tree crops and feed them a sugar solution while they build their new nests. Once a colony is established, farmers then connect the trees that are part of the colony with aerial ‘ant walk ways’ made from string or lianas.”
From there, farmers just have to make sure ants have enough water, enough pruning trees to avoid conflicts because they’re feisty and keep them away from insecticides.
Everyone wins. Farmers particularly win. By using ants to control pests, farmers in related studies saw:
– Cashew yields 49% higher in plots controlled by ants over those controlled with traditional chemicals.
– Those same cashews free of traditional chemicals were just better quality, so income was 71% higher with ants than with chemicals.
– Australian mango crops using ants had a net income that was 73% higher.
While the author of the study doesn’t consider ants the “panacea for pest control,” they’re definitely a good alternative to explore.
Ants as Eco Engineers
But ants are more than predators who can protect our crops from pests. Like beavers, they’re also saving our planet by acting as ecological engineers.
When ants maneuver their way around the soil, they’re making a huge impact. Whether they’re building nests or gathering food, ants are changing the physical, chemical and biotic properties of the soil and help species all along the food chain. For instance, when ants create mounds they prevent plants from colonizing the area and they change the soil’s temperature and moisture.
So you might want to think twice about squashing an ant next time.
Photo Credit: United States Department of Agriculture