- Subject: [ferns] Ants
- From: "Tom Stuart" firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2005 11:46:03 -0500
- Content-description: Mail message body
One of the more fascinating chapters in Robbin Moran's "Natural History of
Ferns" is the one devoted to the Potato Fern, the genus Solanopteris, native
from Costa Rica to Peru, choosing the high canopy of the rain forest as
habitat. The potatoes are swollen tubers on the rhizomes, hollow inside, and
the home for the Azteca genus of ants. Yes, they are fierce defenders.
Ants also protect bracken because of the nectar secreted, and any plant
secreting sugary substances is accorded attention by ants. Some temperate
woodlanders, such as Trillium, produce seeds with sugary appendages and are
dispersed by ants. A similar relationship to that of Pteridium is reported for
some species of Drynaria and Polypodium.
Ants live in Acrostichum danaeifolium, the leather fern, an inhabitant of
mangrove swamps, but their domiciles were not created by either the fern or the
ants. In this case galleries are left behind by moth larvae. When the larvae
move out, the ants move in. As fronds die, the ants move on to new homes.
My bifurcatum has had scales on and off a few years. Of course I remove them,
and they return as soon as I turn my back. Then one day I noticed tiny ants,
these ants about 1.5 mm roaming up and down the fronds, as if on patrol. And
that is exactly what they do, tending the scale and collecting its sugary
output. I found this interesting enough to terminate my wholesale extermination
My Platycerium lives at the end of a long wire, I think not even an ant could
climb easily, and I have never seen them wander off premises. The colony is by
all reason very small, only three or four members in evidence at one time, and
given my assaults, plus a periodic dunking, it is no wonder. I read on the web
of Platycerium-inhabiting ants in the tropics, but there are no tropics nearby.
Do we have generalist ants here in temperate North America, ready to found
scale farms on staghorns?
Do you have a tale of fern-loving ants to tell?
Tom Stuart, New York
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