Insects That Help in Agriculture


As humans we claim to have invented agriculture but that's not necessarily true. It is insects like leafcutter ants, termites, ambrosia beetles and marsh snails that are the true agriculturists. These insect farmers also have very well organised societal structures. Let's take a look at a couple of these agriculture specialists.

Leafcutter ants belongs to a species of fungus farming ants. They cultivate (grow) their own food, a type of fungus, in underground gardens.
Leafcutter ants travel in long lines far into the forest in search of leaves. They leave a scent along the trail so they can find their way back home. They have powerful jaws which vibrate a thousand times a second to slice off pieces of leaf. They use their sharp mandibles (jaws) to cut leaves from plants and then carry the large pieces of leaves over their backs. Leafcutter ants can carry almost 10 times their own weight. They carry the leaf pieces back to their underground nests where the leaves are chewed into a pulp. The decaying pulp is stored with ant faeces and fungus spores and strands of fungus eventually grow on the decomposing pulp. This fungus is the crop that these ants eat. The ants do not eat the leaves.
It is believed that the leafcutter ants harvest more greenery in South American forests than any other animal. Within the rainforests leafcutter ants consume almost 20% of the annual vegetation growth! In its lifetime, a colony of these ants may move over 20 tonnes of soil.

Ambrosia beetles are a type of bark beetle. In the ambrosia beetle community, the females create farming areas inside the trees called galleries where they lay their eggs. The males do the rest of the work. The beetles cultivate a fungus called ambrosia that serves as food for both the adults and newly hatched larvae. The fungus penetrates the plant's xylem tissues, digests it and then concentrates the nutrients. About 3,400 species of farming beetles are known.
Marsh snails are the first marine creatures to be identified as fungiculturists. Marsh snails live in salt marshes and their main food is a fungus that grows on cordgrass leaves. Similar to the damselfish, they cut the cordgrass leaves to create wounds and lay their excrement into the wounds. The excrement contains the fungal
spores (like seeds) and also the nutrients for the fungus to flourish in. Although in snail colonies as many as 1,000 snails per square metre can be found, snails are non-social. Therefore, complex societal structures are not a requirement for farming.