Ants defend aphids against lethal disease.


Social insects defend their own colonies and some species also protect their mutualist partners. In mutualisms with aphids, ants typically feed on honeydew produced by aphids and, in turn guard and shelter aphid colonies from insect natural enemies. Here we report that Formica podzolica ants tending milkweed aphids, Aphis asclepiadis, protect aphid colonies from lethal fungal infections caused by an obligate aphid pathogen, Pandora neoaphidis. In field experiments, bodies of fungal-killed aphids were quickly removed from ant-tended aphid colonies. Ant workers were also able to detect infective conidia on the cuticle of living aphids and responded by either removing or grooming these aphids. Our results extend the long-standing view of ants as mutualists and protectors of aphids by demonstrating focused sanitizing and quarantining behaviour that may lead to reduced disease transmission in aphid colonies.

DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0743

Extracted Key Phrases

2 Figures and Tables

Cite this paper

@article{Nielsen2010AntsDA, title={Ants defend aphids against lethal disease.}, author={Charlotte Nielsen and Anurag A . Agrawal and Ann E Hajek}, journal={Biology letters}, year={2010}, volume={6 2}, pages={205-8} }