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
Lexile

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 defend the nest from intruders.
 
While their agriculture may seem tiny in scale compared to ours, a single leaf-cutter ant nest may process as much vegetation as an adult cow. They 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 to speed decomposition.
 
What characteristics have allowed ants to become successful farmers? Find out more on Thursday, December 10, 2015, in a Smithsonian Science How live webcast on The Evolution of Agriculture in Ants. (It airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST 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 (57)
  • sheilah-6-bar
    12/03/2015 - 08:03 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they had more time to learn to farm. It says in the article,"They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food." Ants have had time to look for food. They have had time to determine what to eat and what not to eat. This article shows how time is a major factor in our life. Ants have been living longer than humans, so they have had more experience. I find this article very informative and interesting because it shows how much longer bugs have been on earth than humans. This article surprised me because of how much time ants have been on earth.

  • william1108-yyca
    12/03/2015 - 08:31 p.m.

    WOW! I never knew that ants planted food while we were not existed. That is amazing. But now that I have read this article I now know that they planted food. Maybe if I read more books or articles about ants I will find out and learn more about them.

  • oscarb-1-bar
    12/03/2015 - 09:09 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because ants have been around longer than humans. Humans have been alive for about 200,000 years while ants have been alive for "55 million years,"so ants have had more time to learn to farm. Also ants had less of a competition for food and learned to farm the food. While most of daily life as we seem to look at it comes from us, is actually the opposite. Farming has been around way way way before us.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    12/03/2015 - 09:18 p.m.

    I think ants work harder than us. I think we should work hard all day in summer. Then in winter we could rest all day. I think we should do it like that. Ants are getting killed by us. But, they are still working hard. I think we shouldn't kill ants. Unless if there is too many ants. I think we should reach out goals when we work. Adults should work hard and get more money. And, kids should work hard, too.

  • calvinh-4-bar
    12/03/2015 - 09:33 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have been around for a very long time and in paragraph one it states that "Ants have been farming for upwards of 55 million years" and humans haven't been around that long. Humans have been farming for around 12,000 years which is ant sized compared to 55 million years.
    I think that ants have far more efficient agriculture techniques because they have been able to survive for a very long time. As humans, I doubt that we will be this advanced by the time we go extinct.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    12/03/2015 - 09:44 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have been around much longer thank humans have. This is according to the beginning statement of the article, which is "Ants have been farming for upwards of 55 million years. Humans started farming about 12,000 years ago." this intrigues me because I never knew that ants farm just like humans do. Maybe there's not much of a difference between species after all.

  • nicholasl-2-bar
    12/03/2015 - 09:52 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have been around longer than humans. This is true because in the article, it says that ants have been farming for 55 million years when humans were not even alive back then. This means ants would have been better adapted than humans were. I was surprised that ants actually farmed and had their own gardens. I was also surprised that ants have been around for more than 55 million years.

  • darianv-3-bar
    12/03/2015 - 09:57 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because ants had 49,988,000 years before us to work on and develop their farming techniques while we were trying to look for food. my evidence is "They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food.
    I think this article is very interesting that ants started farming before humans.

  • lilyr-4-bar
    12/03/2015 - 11:18 p.m.

    Ants have been farming for longer than humans because they have existed for much longer than humans have. This is shown in the first paragraph, where it says,"Ants have been farming for upwards of 55 million years. Humans started farming about 12,000 years ago." I found this article surprising because I didn't know that ants had such elaborate farming techniques.

  • sebastianr-6-bar
    12/03/2015 - 11:30 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they started farming 55 million years ago, before humans even existed. I think it is interesting that such a small creature would be smart enough to start farming.

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