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, fertilize and protect their gardens from pests. Each ant has its own job, with tiny ants tending the gardens and feeding 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, cropping leaves and recycling 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 to 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 (183)
  • brianag-6-bar
    12/03/2015 - 08:01 p.m.

    Ant's have been farming longer than humans because "They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food." I find it cool and kind of funny that ants have been farming a lot longer than humans because they've been farming for about 55 million years while humans have actually only been farming 12,000 years. I chose this article because I am fascinated about ants and I wanted to learn more about them.

    • emilem-nar
      12/07/2015 - 01:06 p.m.

      that is so cool how ants can do all that

  • justiny-2-bar
    12/03/2015 - 11:20 p.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because they have been around longer than us. The article stated that ants have been around for 55 million years and have been farming that whole time.I find it very interesting that ants farm I never could have thought that ants farm.

  • stonep-6-bar
    12/04/2015 - 12:07 a.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because we didn't exist when they started. They have been farming for 55 million years and humans have only been farming for 12,000 years. they have been developing farming techniques for about 49,988,000 years and been mastering those techniques.

  • jilliand-3-bar
    12/04/2015 - 12:59 a.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because humans were nonexistent while ants were first farming. In the first paragraph, the text says "They were developing their agricultural techniques for about 49,988,000 years while we were nonexistent and then roaming around scrabbling for food." Since ants existed before humans,they got to farm a lot longer than humans. I thought this article was interesting because I did not know that ants existed so much earlier than humans.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    12/04/2015 - 01:16 a.m.

    First of all, the ants have been around a good 54 million years before us. So they have a huge advantage of farming compared to us. Even when we were alive, we did not start farming until many years after our existence. This is the number one reason why ants are so far ahead in farming than humans.

    Also, the ants have had more time and energy to adapt to their surroundings and climate. While us humans have been wandering around looking for food.

  • jackw-4-bar
    12/04/2015 - 11:05 a.m.

    Ants have been farming longer than humans because ants have been farming for 55 million years, and humans haven't even been alive for that long. This article surprised me because I didn't know much about ants, and I wanted to learn more.

  • dominicp-hor
    12/04/2015 - 11:07 a.m.

    I think the authors purpose was to inform because he/she was informing me about how ants have been farming for over 55 million years! I learned that ants could farm and were farming for 55million years. One opinion I agree with is that the author said that ants are extraordinary and I think they are too.

  • mathiasl-2-bar
    12/04/2015 - 11:37 a.m.

    ants have been farming longer than humans so that the ants can survive and keep on their generation. the ants need to keep eating so that they can survive and so the can feed the young ants. then those ants can keep having babys.

  • maryl-hor
    12/04/2015 - 01:33 p.m.

    The author's purpose in writing this article was to inform. I learned that ants have been farming for 49,988,000 years longer than we have. I disagree with the opinion that we humans were "scrambling around for food" I think we had some process!

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