Perfect Little Housekeepers
By Awake! correspondent in South Africa
GAPS in African rain forests are often filled by a tree with hollow branches called the barteria. To reach its maximum height, the tree must compete with others that battle to reach the forest canopy. To succeed in this struggle, the barteria needs help to keep itself free from smothering creepers and from moss that prevents light from reaching the leaves. Here is where black stinging ants play an important role as housekeepers. The relationship between ant and tree was filmed in Korup, a rain forest of Cameroon, as part of the TV documentary African Rainforest: Korup, produced by Phil Agland and Michael Rosenberg.
The documentary shows a new queen ant seeking out a barteria tree. Instinctively, she knows that its hollow branches are the ideal place to establish her colony. After boring a hole in a branch, she lays her eggs inside. The hollow branches are also home to tiny scale insects that feed on the tree’s sap. The ants care for these insects like livestock and milk them to obtain a nourishing drink.
As soon as the ant colony is large enough, it starts evicting other residents and cleaning up the tree. How fascinating to watch these brilliant little housekeepers! Some descend to the bottom of the tree and attack creepers that threaten to smother it. They gnaw right through the stems and thus kill the creepers. Other ants can be seen clearing the leaves of debris, moss, and lichen. Even a caterpillar found hidden underneath a leaf is evicted.
“Meticulously,” explains the TV documentary, “the ants clean up every piece of debris. Cleared of all damaging insects and creepers, the barteria can now compete effectively with other trees, protected by its ants. In return, the ants can use barteria’s hollow branches to tend their scale insects—their only source of food—and raise their young.”
What industrious workers these ants are! An ancient proverb says: “Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise.”—Proverbs 6:6.