The Significance of Ants in Agriculture as a Natural Pesticide

Ants have got to be one of the most productive species on the planet. They have a daily routine of gathering food for their colonies. The hardworking insects follow a system where they have a division of labor. It helps in making their days more productive and carries out excellent results. Their system allows them to prepare for seasons when food could be scarce. Aside from working for their colonies, ants are also immensely significant to the environment. Ants can aerate the soil, which helps plant roots acquire sufficient water and oxygen. These insects also spread plant seeds, which leads to more plant growth.

Photo: PxHere

Nature’s industrious arthropods have a fascinating resume — they also excel in agriculture. Recent studies have found that ants are useful as a pesticide. Ants are an effective alternative to chemical pesticides — warding off pests, preventing plant damage, and expanding crop yield. It’s a safe choice, especially when chemical pest controls have underlying adverse effects on crops and their surroundings. Moreover, the toxic contents of a pesticide are poisonous to human health, and it can bring acute or chronic health effects, showing terrible symptoms.

Photo: PxHere

Since the discovery, ants have been deemed safer as they can naturally keep pests from crops. The arthropod is a predator that preys on other organisms that damage fruits, seeds, and leaves. This information was used as data for the study conducted by lead researcher Dr. Diego Anjos and his colleagues from the Federal University of Uberlândia. Their work has been published in Proceedings of Royal Society B. The team assessed 17 crops, growing citrus, mango, apple, and soya bean. The crop fields involved in the observation are from countries such as the US, Australia, the UK, and Brazil.

“Our study encourages farmers to use more sustainable practices such as biological control provided by ants and practices of shaded crops as a way to naturally promote ants in crop systems,” Dr. Anjos explained. Their team utilized 26 species of ants to gather more data, most of which are tree ants. According to reports, ants thrive in agroforestry and shade-grown crops. Those areas do not just gain benefit from them, but ants treat those places as a food source.

Photo: Unsplash/MD_JERRY

Besides observing ants, the team included 30 species of insects commonly seen as pests. They tested two control groups — one was crops with ants, while the other crop field was without ants. The result of the observation was evident — showing that ants caused changes in the control group. Furthermore, some countries have already applied the practice to their farms. China uses ants for their citrus trees, while Canada seeks the little workers’ help as they ward off forest pests. In Ghana, ants protect agricultural produce by preying on cocoa pests. Lastly, in Nigeria, ants are their natural pesticides in crop fields.

Photo: Pexels/Quang Nguyen Vinh

Dr. Patrick Milligan from the University of Nevada Pringle Lab shared his thoughts about this discovery. He said, “They offer a neat and tidy description of ant-derived benefits that are ubiquitous across ecological and agricultural systems. This is essentially another option in our farming toolset that can allow agriculture to move away from pesticides – which really damage neighbouring insect communities – but still improve crop yields.”

However, it’s not yet an absolute method, mainly when a pest can produce honeydew. Ants will treat those pests, such as mealybugs, aphids, and whiteflies, as food sources. It may lead the ants to a different path and forget about managing pests. Scientists offered a solution for this potential problem. Farmers can place sugar on the ground, tree trunks, or any part of the tree and plant to distract the ants. Take one step ahead of the honeydew-producing pests to avoid plant and crop damage properly.

Photo: Unsplash/Georg Eiermann

Opting for ants as a pesticide can save other insects, such as bees, from being poisoned. These industrious insects are prominent factors in why agriculture and forestry flourish, affecting the economy. For this reason, it is only right to study how these industries can operate naturally and sustainably. Ants have been proven by different countries to be effective, and this might be a sign for you to shift from chemical pesticides to nature’s little workers.

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