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

78 comments

Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallace23 days ago

Thanks!

SEND
Laura K
Laura K25 days ago

Noted.

SEND
Mona Pietsch
Mona Pietschabout a month ago

TYFS

SEND
Carl R
Carl Rabout a month ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
Kelsey S
Kelsey Sabout a month ago

Thanks

SEND
One Heart i
One Heart i1 months ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
Mia G
Mia G1 months ago

thanks for sharing

SEND
Joemar K
Joemar K1 months ago

Thanks

SEND
Colin C
Colin C1 months ago

Thanks very interesting

SEND
Greta H
Greta H1 months ago

Thank you

SEND