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Ants Are Running Secret Farms on English Oak Trees, Herding and Milking Giant Aphids

Ants Are Running Secret Farms on English Oak Trees, Herding and Milking Giant Aphids

A photographer has discovered that brown ants have been running little farms on oak trees, building barns from moss and beetle exoskeletons, and herding pale giant oak aphids.

They undertake this process to milk the aphids for their honeydew, even protecting them underground throughout the winter months so they can be milked again when it gets warmer.

The ants keep the aphids safe in mini barns that are built from mosses, lichens and beetle exoskeletons, farming them for the sugary water that they excrete.

Image credit: Julian Hodgson

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife, told The Guardian,

“It’s beautifully complex. It is farming – they are milking the animals, moving them from high to low pastures and building shelters for them when there’s not enough protection.”

The giant aphid, Stomaphis wojciechowskii, has remained undiscovered for thousands of years, being looked after by brown ants on the English oak trees. They have went unnoticed for so long partly due to them being nocturnal, and also because the brown ants do such a good job of keeping them herded and out of sight.

Image credit: Julian Hodgson

The ants are always quick to evacuate their flock if their tree-trunk shelters are disturbed. They carry the smallest aphids in their jaws and herd the larger ones along the way to the ant’s underground shelters.

Image credit: Julian Hodgson

These underground shelters provide warmth and protection during the harsh winter months. In the summer, the sap rises and the ants move the aphids up the tree trunks for them to feed on the sap and provide the ants with their honeydew.

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