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Frank

Article about ants titled "The First Farmers" features Squamellarias

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Science News, a bimonthly magazine about science topics, in it's April 25, 2020 issue has a 5 page article about various ants who have been cultivating plants and fungi; saying that they "may be the first known animals other than human to farm plants".  The first page of the article stars the Philidris nagasau ants that plant Squamellaria seeds in the bark of trees on Fiji, protect the seedlings and adult plants, fertilize them with their feces and occupy the plants by living in the chambers in the caudex.  None of this is new to us as Science News got all of this from Susan Renner and Guillaume Chomicki's papers that we have been following starting with their first one that revised the genus Squamellaria in 2016:  (available free on line as, " Evolutionary relationships and biogeography of the ant‐epiphytic genus Squamellaria (Rubiaceae: Psychotrieae) and their taxonomic implications").  The Science News article has photos of Squamellarias in habitat on Fiji and a cross section of the caudex to show the chambers.  A serious disappointment to me is that the Science News article refuses to use the word "caudex" and refers to it instead as the "bulbous base" or "blob".  I am shocked about this!!

Most of the rest of the Science News article is about three groups of fungus farming insects: 1) several thousand species of Ambrosia beetles,  2) about 330 species of termites in the subfamily Macrotermitinae, and 3) the Atta leaf-cutter ants (who get discussed the most).

The last section of the article goes back to the Squamellaria/Philidris relationship including mention of the sugary, amino acid spiked feeding stations  that form specifically to feed the ants.  These form on the flowers after the flowers have been pollinated and fertilized so they are not there to draw in and encourage pollinators.

Also referenced in this article is Guillaume Chomicki et al's latest paper: "Trade-offs in the evolution of plant framing by ants" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dated February 4, 2020.  I have not read this one yet.

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I read it. I found blob and blobby. I was looking at definitions of the word blob. The closest thing, I  am thinking, for that usage of the word is this definition:

Blob: an indeterminate mass or shape.

Blob almost fits but not exactly, because the shape of the plant is determinate mostly; though it does change and grow over time. "The Blob" a 1958 movie is what I think of as a blob. I would think the Fijian local name for Squamellaria is more fitting, though blob would be more appropriate than that.

 

 

 

 

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