Ants, Not Man, Invented Agriculture

Ants, Not Man, Invented Agriculture

March 27, 2008

OK, this is seriously cool. An article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that Ants Are Experienced Fungus Farmers. Current dogma has it that man only discovered agriculture 10,000 years ago–before that we were hunter-gatherers (actually hunted-hunter-gatherers) living on berries and the remains of animals killed by faster, stronger predators.

Actually, agriculture was invented at least 50 milli0n years earlier by ants. According to entomologists Ted Schultz and Seán Brady at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, leaf cutter ants have been growing and harvesting fungus for their dinner table. In the past 25 million years, four different specialized agricultural systems have evolved, including “leaf-cutter ants.” The ants do not eat the leaves; they grow their fungus gardens on them and then eat the fungus. Cool.

 

The First Farmer?

The First Farmer?

This photo shows the head of the defensive soldier caste of the leaf-cutting ant Atta laevigata, which lives in the savannahs of northern and central South America. The mature nests of Atta laevigata are huge, containing many millions of worker ants that forage across many acres of land. A colony of Atta laevigata can live for 20 years and weigh as much and consume as much grass as an adult cow. (Credit: Photo by Eugenia Okonski/Smithsonian Institution).

So, the next time you are out for a walk be careful where you step. There are farms down there.

JR

John Rutledge

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