The Ants Go Marching

by Sandy Swegel

Seeds have a big challenge this time of year. They’ve matured and are turning into the hard seeds we recognize in seed packets. Now their job is to disperse themselves near and far so they reproduce their species next year. This is a challenge because seeds have no feet for walking. So they have to get somebody else to do the work for them.

We know some of the most common ways that seeds get around. They get eaten by birds and pooped out in their next home. The wind takes some seeds and spreads them about. And then there are the workers who go a lot of trouble to disperse seed such as the humans who right now around the country are collecting seeds from plants so that we at BBB Seed can send the seeds to you.

Humans aren’t the only servants of our seed taskmasters. All over the world today, especially in woodland wild areas, ANTS are waking up this morning to disperse seeds. About five percent of flowering plants worldwide are dispersed by ants. There is a fifty-cent word to describe what is happening: Myrmecochory or seed dispersal by ants. Myrmecochorous plants coat their seeds with a fatty elaisomes (“food bodies” rich in lipids, amino acid, or other nutrients) that are excellent food for ants to eat and take back home for breakfast.

This is such an excellent survival method by the seed because the ants just eat the outside of the seed and then abandon the seed in the ant nest or under some nice decomposing leaves, slightly buried away from bird predators and covered with composting materials. A perfect place to germinate next Spring when temperatures rise.

So in my little part of the world, seeds on the move. Winds are blowing some. The birds are eating lots for winter. Some are being dispersed by the United States Postal Service delivering our seed packets. Squirrels burying bigger seeds in hidden treasure troves. And out in my neighbor’s garden where little cyclamen grow under pine trees, ants are lifting and pulling or pushing seeds across the yard down into their ant lairs. Right now I’m drinking coffee while little baby ant larvae are slurping yummy elaisomes all food of fats and sugars from the outside of the seeds.

The seeds. They’re enjoying the ride. They love to travel.

 

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