Why Do Ants Protect Aphids?

You may have noticed that aphid populations attract ant colonies, but that the ants do not kill the aphids. Is there a reason behind this, or is it coincidental? And why do ants protect aphids?

Ants protect aphids because aphids provide ants with honeydew which they then consume. Ants keep them protected to ensure their supply of food is not destroyed.

Will Ants Eat Aphids?

Ants do not eat aphids as they provide no nutritional benefit to an ant. However, the aphids do provide a source of food for them. This is referred to as a symbiotic relationship.

Aphids produce a substance called honeydew which is incredibly sweet and is a favourite food of ants. The ants will proceed to protect the aphids from predators so that they can continue to have a supply of honeydew for their whole colony.

Do Ants Eat Aphid Eggs?

No, ants will not eat aphid eggs as they know that the eggs will hatch into aphids which will, in turn, provide ants with food. Instead, ants will protect aphid eggs. They might even take the eggs back to their nest.

How Do Ants Protect Aphids?

Ants protect aphids primarily by fighting off predators that try to consume the aphids. The main predator that ants have to deal with is ladybugs.

As a reward for their protection, aphids will allow the ants to ‘milk’ them of honeydew, which is done by the ants stroking the aphids.

They also help aphids to protect their eggs. Whilst this is not very common, ants will sometimes bring the eggs to their nest. This makes sure that any eggs are protected from predators or removal methods.

When the eggs hatch, they then have an immediate source of honeydew for the colony as payment for their efforts.

Ants Protecting Aphids

Will Aphids Attract Ants?

Aphids will attract ants to your garden. If an ant finds an aphid or some honeydew, then it will alert the other ants in the colony to the food source. The colony will then be more active around this area so that they can protect the aphids and bring honeydew to their queen.

They alert the other ants by leaving a scent trail. This trail will be made from the ant nest to the area in which the aphids reside meaning that other workers can easily follow the trail and locate the aphids for themselves.

A lot of the time, a large number of ants will stay on the same plant as the aphid colony, on guard and ready to protect them from any incoming predators.

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Can Aphids Live Without Ants?

Although aphids can live without ants, their lives are put in far greater danger. Ants will often remove aphids predators, such as ladybirds, to ensure their supply of honeydew remains safe and bountiful.

Without ants, the chances of an aphid being eaten by one of their many predators dramatically increases. 

Are Ants Friends with Aphids?

Yes, you could say they are friends. They have a mutually beneficial relationship whereby the ants protect the aphids and, in return, the aphids provide ants with honeydew.

Do Ants Control Aphids?

Once ants protect aphids, do they become possessive and begin to control aphids? Yes, ants do control aphids in some situations. Ants will herd aphids and will even keep them enslaved in their nests milking them of all their honeydew. 

Essentially, this results in ants farming aphids for their honeydew to help sustain their nest – being an insect can be a nasty world to live in!

Although aphids get benefits from being friendly with ants, ants still find they have to force honeydew out of aphids. They will go as far as to massage the aphids to force the honeydew out.

How Do You Stop Ants From Farming Aphids?

Unfortunately, stopping ants from farming aphids is far from an easy task. The best way to do so is to work on getting rid of aphids in the first place. If you don’t have aphids in the first place, then you won’t have ants farming them.

Of course, getting rid of aphids is not an easy feat. Planting trap plants which you can then remove from your garden when covered in aphids is one way to get rid of them.

Encouraging ladybirds in your garden is also a great way of getting rid of aphids. The problem is that the ants will do all they can to fight off any attacking ladybirds.

Although some pesticides and insecticides will work to remove aphids, they can be harmful to both plants and other wildlife so is not something we would recommend.

Unfortunately, ants aren’t stupid! They use scents to alert other ants of aphids which is why it never takes long for an aphid infestation to be protected by an army of ants. If you can find a way to mess with an ant’s sense of smell then this can also help in your fight against aphids.

Summary

To have a look at everything we’ve talked about, let’s summarise the main points. Ants protect aphids because aphids produce their favourite food source, honeydew.

They protect aphids by fighting off predators and occasionally moving aphid eggs into their nests.

There are no other creatures known to protect aphids in the way that ants do, despite there being other species that have a preference for the honeydew produced by aphids, such as house flies.

Ants alert other ants to the presence of aphids via a scent trail.

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