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control of pest ants can be difficult....


Ants Mastered Fungi Farming 30 Million Years Ago


Pest ants in Auckland are sometimes hard to control. Why? Because as this article says they are smart enough to farm. Which often means they come into your house the materials for this job! 

Please find below an article from IFLscience.com about smarts ants farming!


Humans only invented agriculture some 10,000 years ago, but ants have been doing it for millions of years. New analysis indicates that, although ants operate farms in many environments, true domestication occurred 30 million years ago, in desert or near-desert conditions.

Attine ant species form a symbiotic relationship with fungi. The six-legged farmers propagate the fungus, providing it with nutrients and protection from other animals that might consume it more recklessly. In return, they get to eat the fungal growth.

Like bakers' apprentices taking precious starter dough to found their business, attine ants carry a small amount of fungus when they found a new colony. As with human agriculture, this has shaped the genetics of the species they farm, since varieties of fungus that best suit attine needs are more likely to be farmed.

Smithsonian Museum entomologist Dr Ted Schultz compared the DNA of 119 ant species, 78 of which are farmers. reporting his findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. He mapped the timing of when species diverged, using fossils for confirmation, to locate those closest to the trunk of the ant farmers' family tree.

The 250 known species of fungus-farming ants are divided into those that practice what is called "lower" and "higher" agriculture. Lower agriculture uses fungal species that can live without the ants' protection. Sometimes the fungus will spread beyond the colony to grow in the wild, becoming a resource for the ants to draw on if their crops fail.

Higher agriculture involves fungi that, like many human crops, have been so modified by the farmers as to be unable to survive independently. Since the ants cannot survive without their fungi, the two species are locked in mutual dependence.

Lower agriculture has previously been estimated to have begun in South America 55-65 million years ago. Schultz's work indicates higher agriculture dates back around 30 million years and began in a dry climate, contradicting previous assumptions of a wet origin.

Global climatic changes at the time dried much of South American out. Suitable ranges for rainforest fungi would have contracted, and Schultz thinks some were saved by ants that provided them with reliable moisture, collecting water for humidity-controlled fungal gardens.

"These higher agricultural-ant societies have been practicing sustainable, industrial-scale agriculture for millions of years," Schultz said in a statement. "Studying their dynamics and how their relationships with their fungal partners have evolved may offer important lessons to inform our own challenges with our agricultural practices. Ants have established a form of agriculture that provides all the nourishment needed for their societies using a single crop that is resistant to disease, pests, and droughts at a scale and level of efficiency that rivals human agriculture."

Given our own disastrous experience with monocultures, we've much to learn.


original articale by Stephen Luntz


Ants: coming to a restaurant near you

Ants: coming to a restaurant near you

 

A pair of Canterbury entrepreneurs are putting ants on the menu at restaurants around the country. 


We spend much of summer trying to keep ants out of our food; yet they might be what's missing from it, say a pair of young Kiwi entrepreneurs.

With their start-up company Anteater, Canterbury University students Peter Randrup and Bex De Prospo are trying to drive in New Zealand what's become an emerging industry in Western countries, called "entomophagy", or insect consumption.

Anteater, a University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) student company that just scooped the university's 85K Challenge, is now working with high-end food producers to make dishes from insects to be served in restaurants throughout the country.

Their product range offers wild ants and huhu grubs, harvested in Canterbury, locusts farmed in Otago and cricket powder imported from Canada.

"We view this as a first step toward mainstreaming these products as a viable, sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat," said Randrup, an insect biology student searching for more efficient, sustainable ways to produce high-quality protein sources.

 


"My favourite statistic is that if you swapped out just one serving of conventional protein for insect protein once a week, over the course of a year you would free up 100 to 150 square metres of land somewhere on the planet."

Randrup, a vegetarian, got the idea after reading an article about entomophagy and then pitched the idea at an entrepreneurial event at the university in April.

His now-business partner, De Prospo, initially reacted: "Bugs, really?"

But, seeing the potential, jumped on board and helped grow the business, also losing her taste for meat in the process.


She's now focused on finding out how to best use the business model to help feed people around the world, and hopes to adapt existing insect-farming models to produce kitset farms which can be sent to residents of impoverished regions.

"The statistics on how much grain is produced to feed livestock, while the human population in many of these places are left starving, are absolutely staggering."

People with a taste for bugs can find their offerings at Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton, Vault 21 in Dunedin, Antoine's Restaurant in Auckland and Mexico restaurants in Britomart, Takapuna, Ponsonby, Ellerslie, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.


Meanwhile, the Government has announced $3 million will be poured into two programmes sitting within the "High-Value Nutrition" National Science Challenge.

"The research into high-value nutrition is hugely important in moving our food production from volume to value," Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said.

"These projects will help product development that brings maximum returns for New Zealand food exporters."

The "Consumer Insights" research programme has received up to $1.5 million has been allocated to research the science of consumers, with a focus on health and wellness needs of Asian consumers.

Joyce said it would explore what was needed to establish a habitual consumption of high-value nutritional foods, something vital in ensuring investment was directed in areas that will resonate most with consumers.

The completed first phase of this work studied the information currently available to New Zealand businesses, and their knowledge gaps in understanding consumers' needs and behaviours.

The programme, led by Plant and Food Research's Dr Roger Harker, would ultimately provide direction to clinical research supporting the development of high-value foods and beverages for the Asian market.

The other programme, dubbed the "Science of Food", would receive $1.5 million to address the technological challenges in protecting the health promoting compounds in food during the journey from raw ingredients to finished food products, through to digestion.

A team, led by Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh of Massey University's Riddet Institute, would design ingredients and processes that kept the compounds in top condition within food products, so that when eaten, they were released to the body at the right stage of digestion needed to deliver their identified health benefits.

 


 by Jamie Morton


Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?

Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?


Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs


Scientists have pinpointed a promising new source of antibiotics: ants. They have found that some species – including leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon – use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes.

Chemicals excreted by the bacteria as part of this fight have been shown to have particularly powerful antibiotic effects and researchers are now preparing to test them in animals to determine their potential as medicines for humans.

Doctors say new antibiotics are urgently needed as superbug resistance to standard antimicrobial agents spreads. More than 700,000 people globally now die of drug-resistant infections each year, it is estimated – and some health officials say this figure could be even higher.

Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the first general assembly meeting on drug-resistant bacteria, said antimicrobial resistance was now a fundamental threat to global health.

This was reiterated by Professor Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the scientists involved in the ant research.

“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem,” he said last week. “However, pinpointing new antibiotics using the standard technique of sampling soil for bacteria is tricky. On average, only one in a million strains proves promising. By contrast, we have uncovered a promising strain of bacteria for every 15 strains we have sampled from an ant’s nest.”

Only a very specific group of ants are proving useful in this work, however. These are species that farm fungi in tropical regions in North and South America.

“These ants forage for plant material, which they bring back to their nests and feed to a fungus,” said Professor Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School. “The fungus breaks down the plant material and the ants feed on the fungus.”

The strategy evolved around 15 million years ago, and has proved highly successful. There are now more than 200 ant species that farm fungi. Most fungus-farming ants simply forage for bits of old leaf or grass on the ground, however. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, cut leaves from trees and bring them back in pieces to their nest. “Plants are hard to digest, but fungi are good decomposers and break down plant material so ants can feed easily,” said Ethan Van Arnam, also of Harvard Medical School.

However, scientists have recently discovered that these nests are sometimes attacked by hostile fungi. “They kill off both the nest and its farmed fungus,” said Clardy. “In turn, ants have developed defences revealed as white patches on their bodies. They look as if they had been dipped in powdered sugar. These patches are made of bacteria which the ant stores on its body. Crucially, these bacteria produce powerful antibiotic and antifungal agents.”

In this way, ants nurture bacteria which in turn make antifungal and antibacterial agents that defend nests. More to the point, these bacteria are similar to the ones used by pharmaceutical companies to make antibiotics. A typical example is Apterostigma ants, whose bacterial strains have been isolated in Panama and brought back to Harvard by Van Arnam. Many show promising antibiotic activity, he told the Observer.

“The ants don’t always win,” added Clardy. “You occasionally come across nests that have been overcome by invading fungi. But it is clear ants and their bacteria put up a very good fight, one that has been going on for millions of years. The result has been the production of some very interesting antibiotics.”

Clardy said foreign bacteria also attacked the ant’s microbe defences. “The bacteria in the nests get a really good deal. They are protected and fed by ants. Other strains of bacteria want to take over that comfortable niche. It is the bacterial equivalent of Game of Thrones. Everyone is trying to kill off everyone else and get to the top. The result has been the development of some very powerful antibiotic weapons. These are the end products of an arms race that has been going on for 15 million years. Our trick is to isolate the best of these weapons and use them to make new antibiotics for humans.”


Robin McKie


Bizarre ant colony

Bizarre ant colony discovered in an abandoned Polish nuclear weapons bunker

Scientists describe workers trapped for years in "a hostile environment in total darkness."

 

For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before.

The Soviets built the bunker during the Cold War to store nuclear weapons, sinking it below ground and planting trees on top as camouflage. Eventually a massive colony of wood ants took up residence in the soil over the bunker. There was just one problem: the ants built their nest directly over a vertical ventilation pipe. When the metal covering on the pipe finally rusted away, it left a dangerous, open hole. Every year when the nest expands, thousands of worker ants fall down the pipe and cannot climb back out. The survivors have nevertheless carried on for years underground, building a nest from soil and maintaining it in typical wood ant fashion. Except, of course, that this situation is far from normal.


Polish Academy of Sciences zoologist Wojciech Czechowski and his colleagues discovered the nest after a group of other zoologists found that bats were living in the bunker. Though it was technically not legal to go inside, the bat researchers figured out a way to squeeze into the small, confined space and observe the animals inside. Czechowski's team followed suit when they heard that the place was swarming with ants. What they found, over two seasons of observation, was a group of almost a million worker ants whose lives are so strange that they hesitate to call them a "colony" in the observations they just published in The Journal of Hymenoptera. Because conditions in the bunker are so harsh, constantly cold, and mostly barren, the ants seem to live in a state of near-starvation. They produce no queens, no males, and no offspring. The massive group tending the nest is entirely composed of non-reproductive female workers, supplemented every year by a new rain of unfortunate ants falling down the ventilation shaft.
Like most ant species, wood ants are tidy animals who remove waste from their colony. In the case of the bunker ants, most of this waste is composed of dead bodies. The researchers speculate that mortality in the "colony" is likely much higher than under normal circumstances. "Flat parts of the earthen mound [of the nest] and the floor of the adjacent spaces ... were carpeted with bodies of dead ants," write Czechowski and colleagues. This "ant cemetery" was a few centimeters thick in places, and "one cubic decimeter sample contained [roughly] 8,000 corpses," which led the researchers to suggest that there were likely 2 million dead ants piled around the nest mound. The sheer numbers of dead bodies suggest that this orphaned wood ant nest has been active for many years.

The ant graveyard is also host to a tiny ecosystem, where mites and a few other invertebrates feed on the bodies of the dead wood ants. The question is, what are the wood ants eating? It's possible they have figured out how to eat the creatures who feast in their cemeteries, essentially making them cannibals at one remove. But Czechowski and his team dismiss this as unlikely. It's also possible that there are nutrients growing in the bat guano from the ants' only living neighbors in the bunker. But in their years of observation, the scientists still haven't figured out for certain what the ants' source of food is.

Wood ants are known for surviving in harsh conditions, and they have been found on remote islands as well as living in small, closed boxes. And it's not impossible that this underworld colony could bloom into something more. In a previous experiment, Czechowski showed that orphaned wood ant colonies will adopt queens from related species. So if a queen ant fell down the pipe, she might join this colony and start reproducing. Unfortunately, however, without a steady food supply the ants probably wouldn't have enough energy to raise a new generation and keep the nest warm for them. So the only way this nest carries on is by waiting for a new rain of ants from the free colony above ground.

The paper's conclusion reads like a dystopian science fiction scene from the 1970s:

The wood-ant ‘colony’ described here – although superficially looking like a functioning colony with workers teeming on the surface of the mound – is rather an example of survival of a large amount of workers trapped within a hostile environment in total darkness, with constantly low temperatures and no ample supply of food. The continued survival of the ‘colony’ through the years is dependent on new workers falling in through the ventilation pipe. The supplement of workers more than compensates for the mortality rate of workers such that through the years the bunker workforce has grown to the level of big, mature natural colonies.
Life in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker is nightmarish, even for the humble ant. It appears that the legacy of the Soviet occupation of Poland doesn't just haunt the country's human population. It has affected the social structures of insects too.

 

by ANNALEE NEWITZ


ant spray devonport wasp extermination newmarket


Finding new species may call to mind images of scientists tracking mysterious footprints in the mud or cutting paths through the dense jungle.

But sometimes, a discovery is as easy as getting a frog to open its mouth and say, “Ah.”

Such is the case for Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri, a new tropical ant species found in the belly of a diablito, or little devil frog (Oophaga sylvatica), in Ecuador.

The diablito, a kind of bright orange poison frog, is known for its love of ants, says Christian Rabeling, a myrmecologist at the University of Rochester, New York. The new ant species is named after Bert Hölldobler, a German evolutionary biologist and ant expert, for his 80th birthday.

Because ant-eating frogs go hunting for bugs in tiny and hard-to-access places, scientists use them as a tool to go where they can’t go. By capturing a wild frog and flushing their stomachs, the amphibians vomit whatever is in their bellies—revealing potential treasures, like the new ant.

“Sometimes people think that our world is very well explored. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Rabeling, who led a new study on the ant, published September 19 by the journal ZooKeys.

Mysterious Ant

Because the only known specimen of L. hoelldobleri is a dead one from a frog's stomach, scientists know almost nothing about it.

A glimpse through a high-powered stereomicroscope at that ill-fated ant, however, has offered a few clues. (See "Watch: Ants Use Giant Jaws to Catapult Out of Death Trap.")

“The shape of the mandibles reminds me of forceps,” says Rabeling. This may mean that the ant, which is less than a quarter of an inch long, uses its mouthparts to pry even smaller prey animals, such as termites, out of tight crevices. “But I am just speculating,” he admits.


If the scientists could find living L. hoelldobleri in the Ecuadoran rain forest, the team they could submit the little guys to a “cafeteria test," which means offering an animal multiple prey items to see what it prefers. (See "Surprising Ant 'Mixing Bowl' Found in Manhattan.")

“The difficulty is finding the ants!” says Rabeling.

The little devil frog, obviously, has figured out how to locate them—and for good reason.


Poison frogs get their namesake chemical defenses from alkaloids found in the ants and other critters they consume, says Jonathan Kolby, a National Geographic grantee and director of the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center.

"Physiologists regard ants as mini chemical factories," adds Rabeling. The insects likely use the chemicals as signals to communicate with other ants in their complex societies.

As for where the ants get their alkaloids, Kolby says some species may acquire it from the plants they eat. But what role, if any, L. hoelldobleri may play in the poison game is anyone’s guess.

Belly of the Beast

Because many amphibians are endangered—the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists O. sylvatica as near threatened—any research with wild frogs must be done carefully, and only by trained experts, Rabeling notes. (Read more about why amphibians are vanishing.)

To flush the stomach, scientists insert a soft tube into the amphibian’s mouth and gently fill it with water, prompting whatever the frog has eaten recently to flow out of its mouth and onto a tray. The frog can then be safely returned to its natural habitat.

This is not the first time a new species has been found inside another animal’s stomach, by the way. Kolby points to the example of Dunn’s earth snake (Geophis dunni), which was found in the stomach of a coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) in Nicaragua in 1932.

Furthermore, it seems L. hoelldobleri had some company in the little devil frog’s stomach. The research project that first identified the new ant also found several other as-of-yet undescribed insects.

It seems the little devil’s frog's belly might be the gift that keeps on giving.

By Jason Bittel