No its not a husband that does the laundry – although that is always nice !

Husbandry in Ants

Nope – Ants don’t have husbands, although the queen herself may have a male consort!. 

Husbandry is the practice by many ants to farm, care for, tend to, and otherwise raise other insects like humans do with livestock.  Its a really amazing product of evolution ! They also farm fungi for food and feed them bits of leaves !

Lots of ants practice a rudimentary form of agriculture. Some are gardeners, gathering leaf  fragments on which they cultivate a crop of tasty fungus.  Thank you Smithsonian Magazine.

Others are dairymaids, “milking” the sweet excretion known as honeydew from aphids, scale insects and other related insects. ants sometimes make a meal of the insects themselves. Thank you

We know them only too well ! – most of Plant Specialists Garden Care and Plant Health care team know – where you see ants in a garden look out for other insects like aphids and mealy bugs that might be feeding on the plants.

One of the most common behavior is the herding or farming of sap feeding insects (homopterans) such as aphids, scale, and mealy bugs. These drink large quantities of sap to extract some sugars and proteins then excrete the rest as “ honeydew” a sugar liquid. In return, the ants tenderly look after and protect them from predators.

Aphids producing a highly nutritious nectar or honeydew.  Thank you pinterest

Ant tending to its mealy bug baby ! Thank you

…and to its scale larvae ! Thank you

By stroking the back of some aphids with their antennae, the ants can induce a honeydew droplet. The ants may move the insects to areas on the plants with the best sap or to other plants nearby. When it rains they may move them to sheltered places, even sometimes into their own nests !

Although this process seems very pleasant for both parties, recent studies show that ants sometimes clip the wings off aphids to stop them flying away. They also use chemicals (found on the ants’ feet) to drug them, and preventing their wings from developing. Nasty. Sometimes, presumably when they’re hungry for protein or perhaps because they need to cull the herd, the ants may actually eat their own aphids. AGHHHHH

Written by our resident horticulturalist Peter Morris BSC. MSc. MBA