Ants are known scavengers; here they devour a lot of junk food in Durham, NC. But new research suggests that they are also very experienced farmers, and have been for millions of years.
(AP Photo/YourWildLife.org, Lauren Nichols)
If the emergence of agricultural practices is seen as a sign of intelligence in humans, ants can boast some serious smarts. Not only have researchers discovered that there is a well-organized form of agriculture in Fiji ants—which are the seeds of fruit trees, fertilize and protect them, harvest the resulting fruit, and collect seeds for future planting—but they report in the journal Nature Plants that the techniques that date back 3 million years.
The man, on the other hand, don’t start to search how to plant and harvest crops until about 23,000 years ago, reports the Los Angeles Times. While agriculture has been observed in other species, such as the Yeti-crabs that the breeding of bacteria and sloths that grow algae gardens on their coat, this is the first time that ants have been found to farm plants instead of fungi.
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“Ants are a lot smarter than we think they are,” a researcher tells New Scientist. “We call them superorganisms because they form networks that are just like our brain. The flow of information between ant colonies is just crazy in comparison with human social systems.” The researchers from the University of Munich in Germany say they have discovered that ant colonies have been seen, farming dozens of Squamellaria plants at the same time, all of which are connected by paths that link the thriving domatia, which are round, hollow structures they form at the base of the fruit trees in the place of the nests.
What’s more, it seems that the ants and the trees have evolved to be co-dependent; without the trees, the ants starve, and without the ants, the trees no longer reproduce.
(Like humans, ants also make use of the toilets.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: 3M Year For the Man, Ants Were Farmers