MAY 13, 2017 7:36 AM PDT

Ants Have Been Growing Their Own Fungi for 65 Million Years

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Mankind may know how to farm, but as history shows, ants have been doing it long before humans even walked the Earth; perhaps as early as 65 million years ago.

Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, entomologist Ted Schultz and his colleagues discuss the circumstances during which ancient ant ancestors would grow their own fungi as a food supply.

Ants would partake in agriculture to grow their own food, and they adapted well to new climate conditions.

Image Credit: francok35/Pixabay

The first place in the world where ants are thought to have developed the smarts to take on agriculture is in South America, where the wet rainforests offered heat and moisture, which provided a great opportunity to mass-produce fungi for food.

Ants would grow the fungi inside of their underground colonies, and more importantly they could develop two kinds of fungi: one that can grow on its own without much babysitting and one that required constant attention from the colony.

In some cases, the former fungi could expand beyond the colony and find its way out into the rest of the rainforest. The domino effect provided a seemingly infinite food source for the ant colonies, which was a testament to their success. The latter was much more tedious, requiring more manpower.

Looking at the modern of 78 known modern farming species and 41 that don’t partake in the green-growing activity at all, Schultz was able to determine that these modern ants probably all resulted from a common ancestor from the farmer ants in South America back in the day.

Interestingly, some ant species took their work to the hotter and more arid climates. Regardless, they were able to sustain fungi growth inside of their underground colonies by controlling temperature and humidity on their own.

They controlled temperature by choosing exactly how deep they were going to farm, and they controlled humidity by bringing in water from outside sources. Both of these created a humid underground that mimicked that of the South American rain forests, even in places that would normally be too dry for the fungi to thrive. 

Related: Here's how ants comminicate with one another

One can only assume that had it not been for the ancestors that learned how to farm in a humid environment, ants may never have figured out how to do it in a dry environment as they did.

Ants continue to amaze us with their seemingly super strength and super smarts, but perhaps their agricultural simplicity could eventually teach us a thing or two about our own methods. As for the ants… well, their intellect may just continue to surprise us.

Source: New York Times

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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