Why You Should Let Ants Poop All Over Your Garden

Although you probably wouldn’t want ants crawling and pooping all over you, that’s just because you are a human. On the other hand, if you were a plant, you’d most likely welcome that messy behavior.

As Phys.org reports, it turns out that when ants drop their poop and urine onto the leaves of a plant, it fertilizes the plant and helps it to grow stronger. While we tend to think of fertilizer as something in the soil, even excrement left smeared on a leaf provides nutrients that allow the plant to thrive.

Scientists at Aarhus University, a top school in Denmark, recently published a new study in the Journal of Ecology examining the value that plants receive from ant colonies that pay them visits.

In a laboratory setting, scientists set up an experiment involving multiple coffee trees. They put a colony of weaver ants in the habitat, too, but restricted access to some of the trees to test how differently the trees grew with and without the help of the ants.

At the end of the experiment, researchers discovered that the trees the ants had crawled on had higher nitrogen content than those they could not get to. Furthermore, the branches on the ant-visited trees grew thicker and longer than their counterparts.

Because the researchers weren’t certain whether the ant waste benefited only the leaves the ants had direct access to or the entire tree, the scientists decided to add an extra layer to the experiment. They wrapped up some of the leaves on the accessible trees so that the ants couldn’t touch them and checked later to see whether their nitrogen levels were up as well.

Indeed, even these leaves showed to have received a boost from the ants on the other parts of the tree, indicating that the ants’ nutrients were being shared throughout the entire tree.

With this discovery, researchers plan to look into how extensive the ant/plant relationship is. Given what we now know, it seems likely that plants have evolved and survived with the help of ants.

“This has great ecological importance,” said lead researcher Joachim Offenberg. “The ants, which primarily feed on insects in the trees, digest the insects and hand the nutrients on a silver platter to the plants. You can almost say that the plants receive the nutrition intravenously exactly where they need it.”

It’s not the first time researchers saw the value in bringing ants to gardens and orchards. Other studies have found that ants love to snack on insects that are harmful to plants, so when an insect infestation strikes an area with vulnerable crops, farmers will often move ants into the fields to help them tackle this problem.

For more reasons why ants should always be welcome in your yard, check out Care2’s article 4 Ways Ants Are Good for You and Your Garden.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

68 comments

Philippa P
Philippa P2 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Kathryn I
Kathryn I2 days ago

Makes me glad I don't have a garden. Thanks for sharing.

SEND
Carole R
Carole R4 days ago

I'm sure they are doing their best.

SEND
Toni W
Toni W7 days ago

TYFS

SEND
Toni W
Toni W7 days ago

tyfs

SEND
Kay M
Kay M8 days ago

all things in moderation, i guess. as long as they don't simply eat all my plants (or the roots--this has happened). all creatures poop, so if they're in your garden anywhere, it's going to happen. i don't know of any gardeners who issue visiting passes to insects with the agreement they will poop elsewhere.

SEND
Past Member
Past Member 8 days ago

nice

SEND
Jeramie D
Jeramie D8 days ago

Fine. Poop wherever you ants want, just not in my house.

SEND
Julie C
Julie C14 days ago

My question was exactly the same as Nancy C's. How could stop the ants from pooping? lol

SEND
nancy C
nancy C15 days ago

How exactly would a person STOP ants pooping in their garden?

SEND