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The farmer who bites his cattle

Honey ant and aphids, Kabini -

The pastoral society of Kabini is the stage where an intrepid breed of farmers herds their cattle right under the noses of large predators who are none the wiser for the event. Perhaps it helps that the ‘cattle’, in this Lilliputian saga, are no larger than a grain of rice, and their minders aren’t much bigger. It all started when the Honey Ants of Kabini decided it was no fun scrounging around for their beloved sugar when they could have it delivered at their doorstep. So they entered into a quid pro quo with the sugar secreting Aphids, by offering them protection, in exchange for a regular tribute of the honeydew that they excreted. Desiring a better supply, they regularly ‘milked’ the aphids with their antennae to produce delicious honeydew. The aphids didn’t seem to mind too much, as that left them with one less thing to do, and they could concentrate on the more pleasurable job of gorging themselves silly on all those juicy plants. This mutual arrangement evolved into professionally run diary farms with large herds of ‘ant-cows’ that were well tended and provided with fresh pastures. The ants aggressively defended their cattle against predators, and have been known to go on ‘search and destroy’ missions to root out the eggs of aphid predators. Of course, such a possessive love has its dark shades too, and our ant farmers obviously don’t believe in the dictum of, ‘If you love someone, set them free…’ Whenever some aphids threaten to grow wings and take flight, they nip the idea in the bud, by actually biting off the wing. This, as those with a sweet tooth will agree, is a good way to ensure your sugar supply doesn’t run out on you.



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