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The Double-Crossing Ants to Whom Friendship Means Nothing

In the Tambopata National Reserve, located in the Peruvian Amazon, big-headed ants are ‘hired’ as bodyguards by young Inga trees who want to grow tall enough to reach the rainforest canopy.

The rainforest is especially dangerous for young trees. The branches and leaves of mature trees merge together high in the air forming a canopy. Young trees on the forest floor struggle to get enough light. Young trees also have fewer leaves, and losing even a few to herbivores can threaten their survival.

The ants protect the Inga’s leaves from hungry caterpillars and other leaf eating insects. In turn, the ants drink the tree’s sugary nectar in little dish-shaped nectaries. That’s mutualism, “the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits from the activity of the other.”

But those ants might double-cross the Inga if another offer comes along… like tentacle nectaries. See what happens in this episode of Deep Look: The Double-Crossing Ants to Whom Friendship Means Nothing.

Related reading: Singing caterpillars and Riodinidae butterflies.

Next: Why do Leafcutter Ants cut leaves and carry them away?

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