Co-operation Between Ants and Plants

By Harun Yahya

“There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on Allah: He knoweth the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary deposit: All is in a clear Record.” (Surah Hud, 6)

As we watch the animals that depend on each other for a living, we come across many amazing instances. Animals that live together usually have many distinctive features. Their ally, highly menacing for most of the animals, may be protective to its symbiont, and even may watch over its benefits.

One good example is the pitcher plant (Nepenthes bicalcarata) that grows in Eastern India. This plant, that is exactly in the shape of carafe, houses ant colonies in its body. It feeds on insects by seizing the ones that perch on it, captures them and in the end digests them. On the other hand, the guest ants have privilege for this carnivorous plant. The pitcher plant ignores the existence of ants in an incomprehensible manner.

Truly the ants and the plant have a deal with each other for their mutual benefit. The ants are under the threat of being eaten by the plant, nevertheless they have gained a home for themselves. On the other hand, the plant leaves remnants of some tissues and insects for the ants and in return, it gains the right to get protected from its enemies by the ants.

This example, defines the main features of symbiosis between the ants and the plant. The anatomy and physiological structures of the ants and the plant hosting them are so designed as to provide a mutual relationship. However the evolutionists claim that such relationship gradually became widespread in millions of years, assuming an obvious illogical thesis that two living beings lacking intelligence made an agreement and planned such “mutual benefit” system – somehow.

It appears that in nature many species of ants live in symbiosis with the plants. Yet, it is a matter of curiosity what it is that leads the ants to live on plants, and also what leads the plant to ‘permit’ ants to do so. The tendency of the ants to settle on plants is actualised by means of a fluid called “nectar residue” secreted by the plant. Nectar residue liquid plays almost the role of an irresistible invitation for the ants. The plants secrete these fluids at certain periods. For instance, black cherry trees secrete this fluid actively three weeks during the whole year. This timing is by no means a coincidence, since this three weeks is the only period in which a kind of caterpillar called “eastern tent caterpillar” harms the black cherry trees. Thus, the plant has only one way to be saved from the harm: letting the ants live on itself in order to have them clean their leaves from the caterpillars. Secreting a fluid, the plant makes the ants do this which it is itself unqualified to do.

Acacia trees and Ants

Acacia trees grow in tropical and subtropical regions of the world and are protected by the thorny bushes. A species of ants that live in the acacia trees of African kind, opens an entrance hole for itself by gnawing the thorns and from then onwards lives in the acacia tree for all times. Ant colonies live on one or more trees and feed on the nectar existing in the leaves of acacia. Moreover, they eat the caterpillars and the other organisms on the tree.

The nectar that exists in the trunk of the acacia is very rich in protein and fat. The only known function of the nectar is feeding the ants. The ants live on these trees, take the sugar in the nectar secreted from the tree’s trunk and use it for nurturing their own larva. Well then, what does the tree expect from the ants in return for this especial production?

Living on the plant, the worker ants are quite aggressive against the other insects, even against all other living beings – regardless of their size. In the case of an attack directed against the plant, they climb down the tree and assault the opposite party and bite them bitterly. Furthermore, the ants run over and rough up all the sprouting plants nearby. Likewise, the branches of the trees that touch the acacia tree on which the ant colony is settled get spoiled.

Researches indicate that the acacia trees without the ants as guests suffer more from attacks and harms by the insects, compared with those trees hosting the ants. In a research, the savage plants spurting out from the trunk of the acacia tree, were completely chewed and crushed by the ants till they were completely destroyed. Moreover, the ants attacked the branches and leaves of the other plants that had contact with the shady spot of the acacia tree. The entire ant community was very much active in patrolling and cleaning the plant.

Researchers concluded thus: The ants work like a “private army” hired by the plant. Since neither of the two sides could make such a decision on their own and act accordingly, nor provide such conditions with their own will, it is evident that Allah who created both parties established this complicated and intricate balance.

Ant Hotels

Some plants have deep hollows called domatia in the biologocial terminology. Domatia has no function other than constituting a shelter for the ant colonies. Domatias have thin layers of covers made up of tissues that enable the ants to go in and out freely. These covers hide the divisions that contain the special food produced by the plant for the ants.

Again, the plant has no benefit from this food, yet produces it only for the advantage of the ants. It may be concluded that domatia is a special structure for the survival of the ants. The temperature and moisture balance of the domatia is also ideal for the ants. The ants live comfortably in these sites especially designed for them, just similar to men in luxurious hotels. Consequently, it is out of question to claim that such mechanisms could be formed coincidentally; there should be- and certainly is – a conscious intention for the existence of such a plant getting equipped according to its vital requirements, and producing the food from which it won’t benefit, but only its symbiont will.

The ant – plant alliance is just one of signs of the extraordinary balances of the Universe, all of which are built by Allah, the one and only Creator, Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds, praise be to Him. Moreover, this relation is reciprocal. The service that the ants put forth in return for

the plant’s assistance is a critical factor in the fertility of the global earth. The ants provide abundance of carbon by stirring the soil, supply nourishment to soil by leaving waste materials, and maintain the temperature and moisture of the surroundings at the required level. For this reason, the soil nearby the nests of ant colonies is richer in content than the soil elsewhere.

Chemist Plant and the Nitrogen Providing Ant

An ant species Philidris and its host plant Dischidia Major, make very complicated “chemical productions” all through their lives. The plant in subject has no root under the soil, so it hangs on to other plants for support. Thus, it has an interesting way of obtaining carbon and nitrogen. The ants living on Dischidia Major have a special place for storing the organic fragments (dead ants, pieces of insects, etc.) called “ant leaf” in which they breed up and keep their young. The organic fragments gathered and stored by the ants consists of the nitrogen resource for the host which cannot obtain nitrogen for itself. Besides, the inner surfaces of the stoma (leaf openings) absorb the carbon dioxide that the ant breathes out, and in this way the plant reduces the amount of water that gets out of the pores. Even though this plant grows in the tropical climates, preventing the loss of water is very crucial to it. Since the chemist plants do not have roots, they are never able to absorb the water in the soil. Therefore, the ants meet the two important requirements of the plant in return for its hospitality.

Piper Plant and Brown Ant

The relation between the piper plant and the brown ant is the most interesting of the plant-ant symbiosis. The plant called Piper (a plant belonging to the black pepper species) grows in the shady spots of tropical forests of Central America. It supplies food and protection for the brown ants (Pheidole bicornis). The young piper plants have only two or three big leaves. There is usually a queen living in one of the domatia between the branch and leaf. The queen colonises one of the Piper saplings, opens an entrance on it and then leaves its eggs inside.

This plant is also a food resource for the ants; it leaks out the proteins and fats that it has produced from the microscopic sacs on itself. The ants tear off the protein-rich pieces of this food and feed its larva on them.

The piper plant provides rich source of food for the ants that they could not reach anyhow. Every year these ants move where the piper plants live in order to supply the best maintenance, protection and feeding for themselves. They nest at the most suitable sites of the plants.

Besides being the source of food for the ants, the piper plant has another interesting feature. While the other symbiont plants continue producing food even after the ant colonies have gone, the piper plants produce food only when the ants are present. Scientists have noticed with amazement that the plant ceases its food production when the brown ant colony (Pheidole) leaves.

As is clearly seen in the examples of the ant – plant cooperation, there is a splendid concord between different organs of two living beings. The fact that two living beings are so complementary to each other confirms a conscious creation. The existing harmony is inexplicable by any means of coincidence. Since the animals and plants are incapable of planning and designing such intricate relations, then it should be admitted that the origin of the consciousness in these ant-plant interactions belongs definitely to the Creator who has designed all the living beings in-subject.

“Surely this Creator is Allah who is Wise and All-aware. It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth; Moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He hath perfect knowledge. ”(Surah al-Baqara, 29)



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