When it comes to agriculture, ants show swagger Leaf-cutter ant colony tending its fungus garden, presided over by the queen. (Karolyn Darrow/Thinkstock)
When it comes to agriculture, ants show swagger
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Ants have been farming for upwards of 55 million years. Humans started farming about 12,000 years ago. So, ants got a huge head start when it comes to growing food. They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food.
 
It is no wonder, then, that we find sophisticated agriculture systems in some ant species. At the pinnacle of farming abilities are the famous leaf-cutter ants. They cultivate fungus gardens as a unique food for their colony. Like us, they prepare "soil" (leaf cuttings), plant, weed and fertilize. And they protect their gardens from pests. Each ant has its own job. Tiny ants tend the gardens and feed the larvae. Larger ants bring leaf cuttings. And they defend the nest from intruders.
 
Their agriculture may seem tiny in scale compared to ours. But a single leaf-cutter ant nest may process as much vegetation as an adult cow. Ants are major ecosystem engineers. They crop leaves and recycle nutrients into the soil. And, to ants, sustainable agriculture comes naturally. Waste from the garden is carried to a compost pile by designated ant workers. The pile is regularly mixed by other ants. This speeds up decomposition.
 
What characteristics have allowed ants to become successful farmers? Find out more on Thursday, December 10, 2015. We will present a Smithsonian Science How live webcast. It is called The Evolution of Agriculture in Ants. (It airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST.  Watch it on the Q?rius website). Entomologist Dr. Ted Schultz from the National Museum of Natural History will appear live.  He will discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why have ants been farming longer than humans?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (33)
  • giovanni-hym
    12/08/2015 - 01:56 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans. They started farming 55 million years ago. Humans started farming 12,000 years ago.

  • zane-hym
    12/08/2015 - 01:59 p.m.

    Ants been farming longer than humans because so they can stay a live.

  • john-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:05 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they were developing their agricultural techniques.

  • kylie-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:07 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer then humans because they have to make sure the gardens are growing right.They also have to take care of the gardens under the ground.The ants always take good care of the ground because if they didn't then I think something would go wrong.

  • christopher-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because ants have been alive longer than humans.

  • mary-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:10 p.m.

    I think ants have been farming more than humans because...

    • They started 55 million years ago, and we started 12,000 years ago.

    • The ants usually have everything they need for planting, and they have 100,000 ants to help plant, they all have their own job.

    • For the ants it's probably easyer to do their farming because, it's quicker for them since they have so many helpers, and it's easyer for them because they don't have to plant as much as we do because they don't need to much food.

  • arianna-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:10 p.m.

    I think ants have been farming more than humans because

    . They been doing it for 55 million years ago, the first time in the world to me and I don't know how much you love it and it was the best of the day before I get a follow back.

  • zaire-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:16 p.m.

    Ants have been farmer longer then human because they lived longer.And move to get food for the queen.also ants move around all the time.

  • garrett-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:17 p.m.

    Is why they have been here longer than us is because they were around when donators were alive and they were born before us.

  • caleb-hym
    12/08/2015 - 02:18 p.m.

    Ants have been longer farmers because human famers have farming for 12000 thounds years ants have been famers for 55 millon years.

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