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 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)
  • gregorys-6-bar
    12/03/2015 - 11:42 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they were on earth before humans and got a head start on scavenging for food. The evidence can be found in the first paragraph where the writer states that the ants have been around for 55 million years. Ants also had specific ants for each job like gatherers and protectors. The way the ants perform is admirable and I feel like this an interesting way to grow. The article was interesting in the critical thinking question it had.

  • josiec-1-bar
    12/04/2015 - 12:42 a.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because according to the article, "They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were still nonexistent and then roaming around scrambling for food." This is an example of how long and why ants have been farming for food longer than humans have. My opinion is that ants have a very technical way of farming and using agriculture strategies which has kept their species alive for millions of years.

  • paigea-3-bar
    12/04/2015 - 01:36 a.m.

    Ants have been farming for longer than humans because ants have existed for longer than humans. The article states,"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." Ants were hungry just like us and needed a source of food. I like this article and I think it is cool that ants do farm because I have never really thought of these tiny creatures in this way.

  • katherinec-3-bar
    12/04/2015 - 10:53 a.m.

    Ants have been farmers longer than humans because they crop leaves and recycle nutrients into the soil. In this passage it says waste from the garden is carried to the compost pile by designated ant workers. I found this article interesting that aunts farm more and have been farming longer than humans just because that is what the live to do.

  • autianae-ste
    12/04/2015 - 12:23 p.m.

    Though we may not realize it, ants are extremely important to our agricultural system as well as we are important to them. It's amazing how a species so small can have that much affect on us and we don't even realize it.

  • brandony-ver
    12/04/2015 - 01:09 p.m.

    I always thought ants just walked around for food..not farmed, fertilized, etc. The ants have been farming for longer because they have been living on this planet longer than us.

  • zackd-ver
    12/04/2015 - 01:34 p.m.

    I cant believe that there are that many ants there i actually never thought there was that many ants anywhere. I hope to never see those ants.

  • alyssar-har
    12/04/2015 - 01:59 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have been alive longer than we have. They were around years before us. Like in the story it said "They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food." So, this is saying that we weren't even alive when they started.

  • calebr-
    12/04/2015 - 03:34 p.m.

    I like that fire ants have colonies so they attack there prey in bundles.

  • isabellaw-1-bar
    12/04/2015 - 04:00 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have had many more years than us to practice their agriculture techniques. ¨They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food.¨

    I found this article very interesting because I did not know ants have been around so much longer then humans have.

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