Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Out the Back Window – 04-15-13


In a past summer, it was about time to trim back some of the bridal wreath bushes near the house. The many black ants were troublesome. They were about 1/2″ long on many of the tips of the small branches. They seemed very intent doing something slowly and deliberately. A closer look revealed tiny, light green aphids had been herded by the ants toward the ends of the small branches.

Ants and aphids have a relationship called Mutualism. The relationship serves to benefit both the ant and the aphids. The ant obtains a sweet source of food from the abdomen called honeydew. The aphids are protected on the branch by the ant. Each can exist independently of the other. But, both parties benefit when together. Here is a link to a better close-up view of ants herding their aphids together. The link also talks about the mortal enemy of the aphid, the Ladybug or Ladybird beetle.

Finally, this video shows some ants tending their aphids. Watch for the stroking action of the antennae on the abdomen of the aphids.

Have you seen other examples of mutualism in your backyard? Is there any noteworthy sign of spring?


  1. kishik

    that photo is really extraordinary.

    We need to look for peaceful spots somewhere in this chaotic world.  

    When I was a kid, there was some sort of depection (maybe classic comic books??  Or some equivalent??) of ants and how they tend aphids.  I always thought this fascinating… even though I smush aphids sucking out the juice from new leaves on my garden plants!

    The eastern towhee is still hanging around the feeders.  🙂

    but here’s a photo for peace

     photo almondsparrow_zps0bc293b0.jpg

  2. OceanDiver

    And a nice observation of mutualism in action. Thanks for the peek.

    Most common form of mutualism I see in my backyard is the variety of lichens, which are slow growing but very resilient to freezing, drought, getting stepped on. One thing they are vulnerable to, though, is air pollution, so my diverse and pretty assortment is a testament to the clean air where I live. The fungus provides the tough housing and the alga photosynthesizes food for both. I suppose each could survive without the other, but not well and maybe not for long.

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