Illustration for article titled These Ants Are Satans Gardeners

The rainforests are known for the marvelous range of life that they support, but certain areas of them seem to have been annexed by some demonic force for its exclusive use. And they have been — it's just a different demonic force than most people expected.


In the midst of fantastic biological diversity, Devil's gardens are neat chunks of uniformity. One tree, one bush, one species of ground cover, dominates the entire place. The most common type of devil's garden is the work of an ant. The lemon ant has a deceptively benign name, considering it poisons nearly everything around it, but the name has some merit. Like the lemon, the ant's defining characteristic is its acidity.

To clear out a section of the forest, it picks a spot with a good starter garden of Duroia hirsuta, a spindly, hairy-looking tree. Once the ant and its family move in, they climb up anything that isn't a D. hirsuta, and inject formic acid at the base of each leaf. The other plants die off, leaving only the ant's plant of choice. D. hirsuta provides the colony with a safe and architecturally ideal nest site. This is not a small benefit; colonies of lemon ants can last for 800 years.


It pays to be a gardener. And a poisoner.

[Sources: Devil's Gardens Bedevilled By Ants]

Image: James Niland.

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