How Ants Take Care of Their Farms

How Ants Take Care of Their Farms

[Intro] When humans first domesticated plants about
12,000 years ago, gotta say, it was a pretty big deal. But it was not a first! Hundreds of ant species — along with some
termites and beetles — have been farming for tens of millions of years. Ants practice two forms of farming: some species
farm fungi, and others farm aphids. In both cases, it’s a symbiotic relationship
— where two species have some kind of interaction — but more specifically, it’s mutualism,
where they both benefit from that relationship. The fungi and aphids can digest things the
ants can’t, so they provide the ants with nutrients, and in exchange, the ants protect
and feed them. There are more than 200 species of ants that
farm fungi, and they’ve been doing it for up to 50 million years. Most of them use dead plant material, like
leaf-litter, to cultivate their farms. It’s easier for the fungi to digest that
dead stuff using enzymes that break it down into nutrients that the ants can then eat.
But dead-leaf-eating fungi usually can’t provide enough food for an entire colony,
so the ants have to go eat other stuff too. But over the last few million years, leafcutter
ants and their fungus farms have come up with a better way: they use freshly cut, living
leaves, which are more nutritious for the fungus. Along the way, the fungus evolved to grow
nutrient-rich clusters called gonglydia, which the ants eat. And the ants have lost a lot
of their ability to digest anything else. You’ve probably seen pictures like this
one, of leafcutter ants hauling leaves, but they don’t actually eat those leaves. Instead,
they chew them up and spit them back out to feed the fungus gardens. Smaller worker ants start the process at the
top layers of the garden, breaking the leaves into millimeter-size bits. But the ants need to help the fungus digest
the fresh leaves, because the thinner top layer of the garden is the one doing the digesting,
and it doesn’t have enough enzymes to complete the job. So they poop and spit on it. Ants in lower sections of the nest eat some
of the fungus, including its enzymes. Those areas are more densely packed, so they have
plenty to spare. Once they’ve had their fill, they travel
back up to the top and excrete enzymes onto the leaves, in the form of saliva and feces. Some fungi-farming ants also grow antibiotic-secreting
bacteria that rid the fungi of parasites — in other words, the ants use pesticides on their
farms! But for some ants, fungus isn’t their crop
of choice. Instead, they farm aphids, tiny insects that feed on plant juices, almost
like how humans herd cattle. Aphids eat phloem, the part of a plant that
transports sugar, and they excrete a waste product known as honeydew. Honeydew is full of all kinds of sugars, like
glucose and fructose, and ants tend to prefer aphids whose honeydew also contains more complex
sugars called trisaccharides. The ants keep groups of aphids in herds above
ground on plants, and all they have to do to get the aphids to produce some honeydew
is stroke them, like they’re milking a cow. And they’ll go to some extreme lengths to
protect their sugary food. The ants will keep the aphids sheltered from
rain — building structures from leaves — and they’ll move them to better feeding plants
to maximize honeydew production. They’ll also attack ladybugs, which love
to feed on aphids, if they get too close — even seeking out and destroying ladybug eggs. On the other hand, ants have been known to
bite the wings off of aphids to keep them from leaving, and they secrete some chemicals
that stunt wing growth and others that slow aphids down. But this could be less of a trap and more
of a signal to aphids, basically saying: if you stay here, ants will protect you! It’s a win-win for the colony of tiny farmers
and for their herd. Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon who make this fascinating content
available for themselves and the whole world. If you want to help support the show, you
can go to And if you want to keep getting smarter with us, just
go to and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “How Ants Take Care of Their Farms”

  1. You've probably seen in kids' movies they have something about a bee still being in the bunch of flowers when the magician does his trick. Would that be possible, speaking that the bee could fly out at any moment, not just when the magician is doing his trick? I'm not sure that's actually realistic. Yet again, I saw that in a children's movie several years ago.

  2. Key difference between milking cows and herding aphids: ants don't chop off the heads of their aphids and grind their body parts into meat pies!

  3. Cut off their wings and feed them drugs to slow them down to "protect them." That'd be a pretty dark pixar plot.

  4. A fictional paradox I invented:A rule in the universe is that a line segment that must have it's end a line thickness higher than the other end.But a line segment is infinitely thin.But the other end must be a line thickness higher.How can that be if a line segment is infinitely thin?

  5. If the aphids had the ability to understand the concept of freedom, they would basically be slaves. Since they don't understand freedom, the ant relationship is actually pretty advantageous for them.

  6. I noice that ants always carry away there dead, but why? where do they take them? do they eat them? or do they have funeral for there lost?

  7. I fount the one place where biology is useful if you don't go down that career path. THANK YOU USELESS CLASS TO HELP ME LEARN SOMETHING DO I KNOW WHAT THIS MAN IS TALKING ABOUT!( although if I wanted to know I would ask Siri to google it, as I will for the rest of my life.)

  8. Those ants are geniuses! Farming fungi? Herding aphids? What next? Complex multi-story structures that house all of them? Hats?

  9. i'm curious what gives researchers the idea that ants have been doing this only tens of millions of years and not a hundred million or for only thousands of years. are there fossils with ants in position to herd aphids on a plant?

  10. I'm keeping a Camponotus Pennsylvanicus colony (Currently just a queen and her brood), which is known to keep aphids, when the colony is big enough, I plan on keeping a population of aphids in a sealed outworld to allow the ants to farm them as their sugar source, then I'll be able to observe the behavior firsthand, it's gonna be so cool.

  11. I'd knew aphids farms were used to secrete sweet, sweet honeydew… but I didn't know what exactly was, that the aphids were ''eating'', or that ants clipped their wings O.o ! you just earned another sub ^_^

  12. ants… those have already taken over the world while we were hunting with sticks…
    one day they will fight a war against us and probably win…

  13. The ants essentially trap and spoil the aphids and claim they can keep them safe if they stay…sounds like my friend's ex.

  14. Ants beat us to agriculture, but what about industrialization?

    I'd like to see tiny steel mills used for ant skyscrapers!

  15. I love this video and the comments on it. Someone wrote that ants are the oldest mafia !! Lmfaooo I always said they are communists!

  16. I'd rather see videos of ants doing what is being described than listen to a hipster nerd talking with his hands.

  17. hey! hey! im obsessed with ants and with shaming the Ant-Man film for its gross misuses of them (along with the talent of Judy Greer). may i request an ant playlist or compilation video?? or just a bug one!!

  18. Stepbrother: Did you know humans are the only creatures that drink the milk of another species?
    Me: Not true. Ants farm aphids and drink their secretions.
    Stepbrother: Well, they don't mutilate them like we do cows.
    Me: They CUT OFF their wings to prevent escape!
    Stepbrother: Now you're lying. I can tell.

  19. This is not what I had in my head when I read the title, I was thinking of those plastic ant farms most of us had as kids. I was mindblowingly surprised.

  20. I've always wondered if the fungus produced by leaf cutter ants is safe for human consumption and if so would it be nutritious? Just imagine if we have ant farmers doing what bee keepers have been doing for thousands of years but with ants and their fungus crop.

  21. We gotta kill those ants before they surpass the knowledge of college students wait they can farm and ranch!?!?! they've become smarter than college students

  22. There is one species i remember hearing about that actually farmed their cattle for the meat and not honeydew. Idk if it is true but i heard it from a pretty reliable source: AntsCanada

  23. They are definitely alien, not only their social structure are similar from a human but also their construction and management skills.

  24. Another insightful and amazing video by Hank Green…that I could not watch all the way through. Is there someone out there who would be willing to take some of these excellent videos and re-edit them by re-inserting pauses for inhalation that have been mercilessly cut out leaving a concentrated unremitting stream of brilliant thoughts that are sprayed out without any time for any single thought to be absorbed by the viewer? If there are any such re-edits please note their location and, I am sure, there are many air-breathing individuals who would be very grateful. It is a tragedy that these insights are crammed into a nearly indecipherable concentration of words without an inhale to be seen. Our languages evolved among air-breathing creatures. The language requires that moment of inhale to allow the brain to work. I'm sure I'm not the only one who tires of stopping the video and re-playing segments so that I can think about the deeper implications of these thoughts. Just a thought, mind you.

  25. These videos are breeding grounds for dead means DO NOT REVIVE DEAD MEANS or U WILL DIE (if u don’t get it read the capital letters)

  26. Does that make the "ant" are our ancestors? They seems more intelligent than ape. "Hundreds of ant species have been farming for tens of millions of years".

  27. You can see this on Ant's Canada channel: My Pet Ants Discovered Agriculture – his ants farmed mealybugs… but it is the same thing 😀

  28. How do you farm aphids – I’m keeping ants and I’m thinking it would reduce the amount of food I’m giving them and try to teach them useful skills. I’m trying to keep them feral as possible so I can realise them at some point so they thrive.
    I mean I can always find aphids but I’m meaning is there specific conditions for their eggs to hatch as I know the adults barely last more than a year and the babies are born ready to reproduce.
    My species of ants are really harmed by any fungi growth so I’m trying to stay away from ideas where their feeding on fungi
    I’ve got a mealworm farm for the protein for the larvae but the workers need sugars to survive longer

  29. Actually there is a species of trap jaw ants that tend to springtails that they captured so they eat them and the springtails get Fed with there garbage.

  30. I hope that one day a Martin Aphid King Junior will rise among the ant domination and all the slavery and speciesm will came to an end

  31. the difference between ants and aphids, and humans and cattle is that ants and aphids benefit from each other. the human is the only one that benefits. the cow does not benefit, only suffers with grief from having child taken away, then killed when no longer profitable. However, the cow gets vengeance on the humans in the form of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

  32. Wow, you are knowledgeable, pleasant, and generally great in every way, but please slow down a bit. Not everyone insists on 3 minute videos to learn something. I would rather hear it at a pace that didn't make me feel like I was on speed. If the ADHD people complain, they need to slow down and watch the pretty ants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *