Plant Ants Can Attack Trees to Make Housing When Space is Needed

NORWICH, England, Nov. 10 (UPI) — Plant ants generally live in harmony with their hosts, but a British-Brazilian study finds that when the ants run out of space they can become destructive.

The research led by Douglas Yu of the University of East Anglia and Glenn Shepard of Sao Paulo University is said to be the first to document that ants bore into live trees.

Scientists said ants and certain species of plants have harmonious relationships. Myrmecophytes, also known as ant-plants, have hollow stems or roots and ant colonies often take residence in those hollows. To protect their homes, the ants patrol the area around the plant, killing insects that want to eat the plant’s leaves.

But while researching ant-plants in the Amazonian rainforests of Peru, Yu and Shepard discovered several non-myrmecophyte trees with swollen scars called galls on their trunks and branches. When the researchers cut into the galls, they found ants had excavated tunnels into the live wood.

The scientists said their finding is the first example of ants galling live trees to make housing.

The research appears in the journal The American Naturalist.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Categorized | Animals
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