Why Do Ants Protect Aphids?

Why Do Ants Protect Aphids

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

Do Ants Eat Aphids?

Ants do not eat aphids, but the aphids do provide a source of food for them.

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.

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 these are primary aphid predators.

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.

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. 

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. 

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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