July 18, 2005
Ants Win a Waxy Race
Ever tried to defeat natural forces? Specialist ants are capable of running on slippery waxy plant surfaces in order to reach their nests and food supplies. Some Macaranga trees in South East Asia have waxy stems to protect themselves from ants and other insects. Only one specific ant is capable of running up and down the stem, in order to access its nest and food supply inside the stem.
Tanja Bruening and Holger Bohn from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany are presenting their work on ant-plant partnerships at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Main Meeting in Barcelona [session A 7.68 and A7.70].The legs of the specialist ant Crematogaster contains two claws and an adhesive pad. Bruening performed experiments with ants running along glass and wax rod, clipping off their claws or pads to assess the essence of these components. She observed that, as it approaches a waxy surface, the ants use these claws to interlock to the surface.
However, on glass rods, the ants do not use claws, but without adhesive pads, they have no grip and fall off the surface.
A second specialist ant (Camponotus schmitzi) lives in symbiosis with a pitcher plant which forms a slippery home coming when it rains.
The plant used its slippery charateristic to catch insects, which slip and fall into the pitcher containing a digestive fluid in which they get trapped and die. The ant adjusts its walking mechanism and moves over this slippery surface. This enables it to reach the pitcher and help itself to the food supply.
Further research is going on to investigate the running and swimming mechanisms in more detail.
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