Aphids and ants are symbiotic insects that live together in a mutualistic relationship. They both feed off of each other’s energy. However, there are some differences between them. For example, ants tend to have stronger stings than aphids, which means they can sting multiple times before dying (although it takes longer). Also, ants don’t build nests like aphids do; instead they just lay their eggs in the soil or plant matter.
Ants and aphids are related, but not exactly the same species. There are many different types of ants, so there isn’t really a common type called “ant.” Some ants such as the black soldier ant (Solenopsis invicta) are known to attack any living thing they see. Other ants such as the leaf cutter ant (Lasius niger), will only attack plants when necessary.
Still others such as the honey bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) will attack anything that looks like a potential food source.
The term “aphid” refers to two different kinds of insects. One kind is the adult form of an insect, while another kind is a larva or immature stage of an insect. Both forms are beneficial to human beings since they provide us with nutrients and other essential substances needed for our bodies. They even serve as natural pesticides!
When bees eat the honeydew that aphids excrete, the bees produce honey as waste. There are also many other ways of getting nutrients from aphids. People have been collecting and eating aphids for years in many different cultures in the form of “entomophagy”. We like to call it “eating bugs”.
Because aphids have such a short life span (they live for just a few weeks), they reproduce very quickly. This means that they have a very strong survival instinct. They also like to eat plants since it’s easier for them to digest. This is why they favor plants that are close to the ground.
Many plant lice are aphids, and they prefer to infest plants that are growing in dry soil conditions. They tend to live in a group, which is referred to as a “colony”. Most aphid colonies grow quickly since aphids can double their size in a day!
Natural predators keep the population of aphids in balance. This means that other insects eat the aphids and help to control their population. Other things such as viruses, fungi, bacteria, and natural disasters will also keep the aphid population down. If the population of aphids gets too large, they will kill the plants that they are feeding on.
This leads to a decrease in food for other animals that eat plants.
Aphids are classified as a “pest”. This means that they cause problems for human beings by invading their crops and gardens. They don’t do this on purpose; it’s just a natural instinct for them to want to feed on plants. This sometimes causes problems in agriculture since many farmers have to spend extra money on pesticides to get rid of the aphids.
Aphids are very social insects. They communicate with each other in order to tell other aphids where the best plants to feed on are. They let out a special scent that tells other aphids that there is a good food source not far from their current location. This scent attracts other aphids to the area so they can feed and grow their colony.
How do they do this?
Aphids release a chemical known as “pheromones”. These are special hormones that aphids give off which are received by other aphids. The pheromones are different for each type of aphid. Farmers can actually learn to identify the particular species of aphid that has invaded their crops by the specific type of pheromone it releases.
Most insects including aphids release two types of pheromones: aggregation and Alarm. Aggregation pheromones are the good ones since they let other aphids know that there is a good food source not far from where they are. Alarm pheromones let other aphids know that there is potential danger, and they need to get away as quickly as possible. The substances released by aphids cause other aphids to behave in specific ways.
Using pheromones, aphids can also mark plants that have already been invaded by another aphid colony. This lets them know not to eat that plant since it is already being taken care of. They use different blends of pheromones for different things. For example, they may let other aphids know where to find food or where not to go.
There is also evidence that some plants give off a “defense” pheromone that aphids do not like. This causes aphids to not want to feed on that particular type of plant. Farmers sometimes spray plants with this substance in order to prevent aphids from eating their crops. They can also create synthetic versions of the pheromone that has the same effect.
Do you think that aphids have the ability to feel pain?
They might not feel it in the way that humans do, but they do react to things that would hurt a human. For example, if you were to crush an aphid under your thumb, it would release an alarm pheromone telling other aphids that there is danger nearby. They may not have a central nervous system, but they do react to harmful stimuli.
Many different types of animals prey on aphids. From tiny insects to large birds, there are plenty of predators that eat these tiny green pests. As aphid predators go, they are at the very bottom of the food chain. There seems to always be some kind of predator ready to eat them whenever they show up somewhere.
Aphid Predators (Pictures) Picture Name Description Parasitic Wasps
These are some of aphids’ worst enemies. There are hundreds of different species of parasitic wasps that all prey on different types of aphids. One type of wasp, for example, will lay its eggs inside an aphid, and their young will eat the aphid from the inside out. Other types of wasps will paralyze an aphid and lay eggs in it so that the wasp young have something to eat after they hatch.
These wasps are a big reason why aphids have natural predators. If there were no predators to keep their numbers in check, the amount of aphids in an area would increase rapidly, and they would destroy crops and other plants.
Many farmers actually like having parasitic wasps around since they kill off so many aphids. There are some types of wasps, however, that will kill off honeybees. Honeybees are important for pollinating crops and flowers, so these types of wasps are actually bad for farmers. Ladybugs
The very name “ladybug” probably makes most people think of a cute little beetle that eats aphids. This is not actually true, though. Ladybugs are known to feed on aphids, but they also eat other things like soft-bodied insects. They aren’t really good at tackling large prey, so they rely on smaller insects to suck out all of their “jUICE!”
Ladybugs are actually very important in keeping down the aphid population. There are always a lot of ladybugs around whenever there are lots of aphids around. As a result, crops that have a lot of aphids on them are often left alone by ladybugs because they have better food options. Ladybugs do eat honeydew, so farms with aphids will actually encourage the ladybugs to stay around.
Some farmers will actually buy live ladybugs and release them onto their crops that have aphids. This is usually done in greenhouses where there aren’t as many natural predators keeping the aphid population down.
Most farmers like having ladybugs around since they kill off so many aphids. There are some types of ladybugs, however, that will kill off honeybees. Honeybees are important for pollinating crops and flowers, so these types of ladybugs are actually bad for farmers. Dragonflies and Damselflies
There are thousands of different species of dragonflies and damselflies throughout the world. They can be found everywhere from the hottest deserts to the coldest temperatures at the very tops of mountains. They eat a variety of things, but they are known for eating lots of insects, including aphids.
There aren’t many other insects that can match the speed of a dragonfly or damselfly when they attack. They dart right in and grab an aphid with their sharp mouthparts and then take off to find a place to eat it.
Sources & references used in this article:
Biodiversity consequences of predation and host plant hybridization on an aphid–ant mutualism by GM Wimp, TG Whitham – Ecology, 2001 – Wiley Online Library
Ecology and evolution of aphid-ant interactions by B Stadler, AFG Dixon – Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 2005 – annualreviews.org
Direct and indirect effects of warming on aphids, their predators, and ant mutualists by BT Barton, AR Ives – Ecology, 2014 – Wiley Online Library
Aphid-ant interaction reduces chrysomelid herbivory in a cottonwood hybrid zone by KD Floate, TG Whitham – Oecologia, 1994 – Springer
Balancing between mutualism and exploitation: the symbiotic interaction between Lasius ants and aphids by J Offenberg – Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2001 – Springer
Bottom‐up effects of plant genotype on aphids, ants, and predators by MTJ Johnson – Ecology, 2008 – Wiley Online Library
Aphid–ant mutualism: how honeydew sugars influence the behaviour of ant scouts by C Detrain, FJ Verheggen, L Diez… – Physiological …, 2010 – Wiley Online Library
Correlated evolution of the association between aphids and ants and the association between aphids and plants with extrafloral nectaries by J Offenberg – Oikos, 2000 – Wiley Online Library