Saturday, June 14, 2014

When Red Ants Became a Menace!

                           Red ants nest of  a small size balloon (Right). Cut open nest reveals a colony of mealy bugs.                    
The little red ants that first appeared on the mango tree in my garden last year, which I had then welcome as a guest, have now become some kind of a threat. or a hazard.The solitary nest then made by joining three or four leaves is now replaced by about six to eight balloon size nests made by joining 10 to 30 leaves. 

The nests have now been built at the highest peak of a mango tree, which is about 12-13  feet tall. The nests are guarded by alert warriors which will start jerking their slender bodies on sensing the slightest danger.

In order to find out what was happening inside those nests, I slit opened some nests. I was amazed that all the nests opened had a large colony of mealy bugs (Dorsicha sp). Though these nests were perfectly sealed from all sides, except the small opening through which the ants were moving in and out, it was surprising how the mealy bugs entered the nest.

Such a large number of mealy bugs were not present elsewhere on the mango tree. It appeared likely the bugs were transported to the nest. There is a strong possibility that as the the larvae of Dorsicha sp hatched in the soil and approached the stem they were intercepted by red ant workers at some stage and purposely brought to nest to feed the ant colony through their secretions. There seems to be a very a strong case of a symbiotic relationship the red ants have with mealy bugs.

This relationship is proved by a large number of ants moving around the colony of mealy bugs, even moving on their bodies up and down enjoying every bit of exudation from the mealy bugs’ bodies.  

There are several species of insects which live in symbiotic relationship with other organisms. For example, some ants are known to rear fungus to eat on their spores and ants eating the exudes from aphids and helping in aphids infestation across the plants.

Whatever be the case, these little organisms exemplify the importance of interdependence for mutual benefit for survival of species.

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