GIT ALONG, LITTLE DOGIES! Ants herding cows? It's true!
People keep herds of cows or sheep for the milk they give. But did you know some ants keep herds of little insects for the sweet drink they produce? Aphids and other bugs, called ant-cows, suck sugary juice from the leaves, stems, and roots of plants. Some of this juice goes right through their bodies and drips out. Cowherder ants love this sweet juice and lick it up.
This juice is called honeydew. It's the main food of the cowherder ants. The ants "milk" the ant-cow by stroking the bug's back with forelegs and feelers. The ant-cow lets a delicious drop of honeydew milk ooze out of its body for the ant to drink.
These ants take good care of their herds and will fight fiercely to protect them. They are sometimes called dairying ants because of the way they manage their herds. When autumn comes, and the ant-cattle lay eggs, the ants gather the eggs and the mothers and take them into an underground nest. They are kept safe and warm.
In the spring, when the weather is still chilly, the ants will tunnel to the roots of plants. They hollow out rooms to use as cow barns. This is where the ant-cow herd is kept. Later, the ants carry the ant-cows outside to feed on plants.
When a young queen ant leaves to begin a new colony, she will take with her a mother ant-cow that's ready to lay eggs. This way, her ants will have their own herd of ant-cows.
These fascinating ants produce their "dairy" food in a very clever way. And you thought ants stole their food only from picnics!
by Frances E. Gravert