Mon

15

Jul

2013

Life on Distant Hill Blog... Ants as Pollinators

Are ants a valuable pollinator?

Spreading dogbane flowers (Apocynum androsaemifolium)
Spreading dogbane flowers (Apocynum androsaemifolium)

Ants are shown here feeding on the nectar and possibly pollinating flowers of Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). This native bushy perennial grows on the field edges at Distant Hill Gardens.

I said "possibly pollinating" because scientists have discovered that many ants secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. This secretion protects ants from bacterial and fungal infections, but unfortunately this secretion also kills pollen grains rather quickly.

Spreading dogbane growing with Hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
Spreading dogbane growing with Hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

 

In addition, ants can actually reduce the likelihood of other pollinators visiting a plant because they are stealing the insect attracting nectar. Luckily, Spreading dogbane is also pollinated by flying insects and does not rely totally on ants. Hopefully they leave some nectar for the more efficient pollinators like bees.