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RE: CULT: ants on spuria

From: Bill Shear <BILLS@hsc.edu>

Ants are attracted to spurias by drops of nectar produced at the bases of
the petals.  The same habit appears in some other iris, notably I.
In most cases the ants do no harm to flowers, no more than they harm peony
buds.  It's even possible the plants attract the ants to enjoy some small
amount of protection--the ants might attack and destroy caterpillars and
grubs or drive off other insects.  However, some ants as Christy points out
are "aphid herders" and might bring along their "cattle."

Ant damage to flowers would probably but not invariably be restricted to
the tropics, where leaf-cutter ants dismember flowers and take the bits
back to their nests, to be chewed into compost.  A fungus grows on the
compost which is the ants' only food.  I don't remember the location of the
person who described flowers destroyed by ants, but if it was in Australia,
leaf-cutters are common in many of the warmer parts of that continent.
Here in North America it is very unlikely that ants themselves would
destroy flowers.

Bill Shear
Department of Biology
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney VA 23943
FAX (804)223-6374

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