Aligarh Muslim University
Asked 7th Jul, 2017
Do ants feed upon aphids and mealy bugs?
In my research plot of mungbean I saw the crops were infested with aphid and mealy bugs. In the specific plant affected with aphids were also densely infested with ants. Are those ants feeding upon these aphids????
Most recent answer
This is a symbiotic relationship between ant and aphid/mealybugs. where ant provide protection from natural enemies and clean the colony and in return scales provide them sugar in the form of honey dew.
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All Answers (47)
No, the ants are not feeding upon the aphids such as meat but are harvesting the sugary waste, like humans milking cows. The excrement of aphids and mealybugs is called Honeydew. Ants are the most notable insect to consume honeydew but others such as wasps will also eat it for a sugar source.
Ants have a complex role with aphids and honeydew: 1-they do herd and protect the aphids from predators, thus reducing bio-control efforts but 2- they also decrease the potential for development of sooty mold from the honeydew by policing the aphids as they feed and not allowing the excrement to build up on plant surfaces.
Aphids also work with the ants. Aphids can release pheromones to signal problems of which the ants will respond to, i.e. "fox in the hen house".
Attached is a paper on ant attendance of aphids
There is a mutualistic relationship between ants and aphids. The ants give protection for the aphids on the plant from a number of predators and in return the aphids provide ants with food as honeydew as seen in the following link. The same for the mealy bug, .
Quick note: The ants mostly harvest the sugary honeydew produced by these insects. However, if the ant colony needs a little more protein, then the hemipterans can be killed. The ants do not kill the colony, it is a selective harvest. There is a huge literature on ant-aphid interactions.
At my doctoral exam it was absolutely required that the student answer one question with,
"It varies with the species." When I happened to say it I was immediately passed.
You cannot answer a question about all ant-hemiptran associations with one answer. You can rarely answer anything with one answer. However, many the comments above are great.
Sometimes "it varies" is one of two possible responses. The other choice is to confront the person asking the question and demand that they rephrase the question into something that is answerable. For a graduate student, it is risky to tell a faculty member that they have asked a stupid question.
So there are many examples of ant-Hemiptera mutualisms. The ant-aphid mutualism is well studied for some species. I get some 10,000 hits in 0.07 seconds, and most of the top selections look like valid examples of different aspects of the mutualism. The mutualism has been studied for many decades, and I expect that a more careful search will turn up many articles not available to Google Scholar. There are many species of ant, and many species of Hemiptera that do not enter into this mutualism -- or a better phrasing is that there is no record of such mutualism for those species. It is further complicated in that not every colony of ant or every group of hemipteran will exhibit the mutualism and the fraction of colonies that do enter the mutualism is likely different for different niches. "This" species of ant when it has invaded households does not tend an aphid colony, while it typically does when it is found in more natural settings. More and more detail can be added, with more and more time spent in the literature asking this question. The summary is "it varies," and the faculty member now has the option to ask a more specific question. Please focus your answer on Lasius niger tending Aphid fabae on tansy contrasted with Solenposis invicta tending Aphis gossypii on okra.
Such questions are worded in such a way to ask for generalizations about that which cannot be generalized. Do ants, do birds, etc. are unanswerable; "varies with the species" is a wake up call. It has nothing to do with conservitave or liberal. Some liberal teachers also make sweeping generalizations. If a teacher wants examples, the teacher should ask for examples. Dr Ebert has answered your challenge more elequently above.
Many useful references on attachment 1
Ants do not feed aphids and mealy bugs but they are interested in the honeydew secreted by the aphids and other scale insects. However, I personally observed ants feeding on live Eretmocerus mundus (parasitoid) adults. This may be due to the fact that ants and parasitoids are in the same order of Hymenoptera but it requires research to confirm this.
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