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Ants

  • Subject: [ferns] Ants
  • From: "Tom Stuart" tstuart@westnet.com
  • 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 
project. 

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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