We’ve shared before about how honeybees have been shown to successfully aid in the issue of human-elephant conflict, as elephants find themselves deterred by the sounds and presence of the stinging insects. It seems like there is another member of the bug world that elephants may not be fans of, and you wouldn’t expect it: ants!
It takes very little effort for wild elephants to rip trees from the ground, either to use as tools, play with, or eat from. In the African savanna, elephants have a strong ecological impact on certain vulnerable plants, like the Acacia drepanolobium, or the whistling-thorn tree. But researchers have found that elephants have actually grown to avoid this type of tree in particular due to the ants that make their homes inside. The trees themselves grow golf-ball-sized “swelling thorns” and ants tend to reside inside, feeding on the nectar that comes from the base of the leaves. Symbiotically, the ants provide a bodyguard service for the tree, swarming when faced with an attack from an elephant or other large herbivores.
Elephants have been observed pulling up the trees, which are under a meter tall, and attempting to scrape them under their feet, seemingly trying to remove the ants. However, the ants appear to make their way inside their trunks, which you know by now are filled with sensitive nerve endings, susceptible to the pain of stinging ant bites.
It’s fascinating to think that the animal kingdom is full of creatures, great and small, that are all doing their best to survive in the elements – and that even the tiniest of bugs can teach one of the greatest species in the world a lesson in boundaries.
Photo of Guillermina