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Ants and Aphids

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I took the window screens off the kitchen windows a couple of months ago so I could see the birds and butterflies better. The only problem with that is I can’t open those windows for fresh air. I don’t want to risk a hummingbird or some other bird flying in. We’ve had that happen in house and garage and it’s not an easy task to get them back out. It drains their energy supplies and right now hummingbirds are storing up for their long migratory flight South.

Now and then I open them just to hang my head out and see what’s happening in Smallville. We didn’t choose a typical foundation planting for the two windows of our bayed breakfast nook, we planted a holly tree on each side and with a bit of pruning, they have been growing into fine specimens of cover for the songbirds. I have titmice and chickadees and wrens within a foot of the window where I work. The reflection in the glass from the sun seems to block them from viewing me, but I sure do get to enjoy their antics.

A few days ago, I stuck my head out to find a spider on the side. As soon as I went to touch it, it repeled down to the ground. Of more interest than him was some of the holly leaves that had black dots underneath plus a few ants. Being black and on a holly tree I didn’t automatically think that they were aphids. I had never seen black ones and had never seen them on a holly.

Flipping the leaf over for more light allowed me to see that they were brown, not black, and definitely aphids after enlarging the size of the photo.

Some species of ants are attracted to aphids and feed on the honeydew they produce. Apparently I had that species only a foot outside my window. Ants protect the aphids from natural enemies and will even carry them to new plants if the current food source is depleted. A few species of aphids have become so dependent on their ants that they won’t even excrete honeydew unless stimulated by an ant.

So, you see, this is a relationship in nature that benefits both species. It’s called a “symbiotic relationship.” The word symbiosis means “the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms.” You might think of it as a win-win situation in nature. I have recently learned that aphids come in many colors such as green, white, yellow, red (pink), brown, black, or mottled.

My photos allowed me to get a close-up view of the ants too. You can see their pinchers on the front of their mouth which are used to carry things. They also have a way to carry food inside their mouths.

Ants have always seemed so commonplace but getting a glimpse into their lives right at my window have made them a bit more personal.

It is said that ants rule the earth because they have colonies in almost every landmass on Earth. They can constitute up to 15% of the total animal biomass of a tropical rainforest. In the Amazon, the combined weight of the ants is said to be four times more than that of the other animals in the same area. Myrmecologists (ant experts) tell us that the total weight of all ants in the world is the same as the total weight of all the humans in the world. That’s a lot of ants.

There’s a lot to be learned from ants. Proverbs in the Bible tells us to consider the ant and its ways. They are diligent and cooperative, working as leaders and followers, and always willing to lend a hand. They are neat and organized.

I know they can be a problem when they exhibit all these wonderful character qualities inside your home, so here’s an article on getting rid of ants that gives you a few non-toxic options. There’s more to controlling your indoor environment than simply killing everything that happens inside for food, water or shelter. We can learn so much more about having a symbiotic relationship with the living things around us.