How Do Ants Help Caterpillars?
Observation of ants in nature shows that some species are actively engaged in “tending” or protecting caterpillars. These ants often follow a pheromone trail to find food.
Ants can be beneficial to caterpillars because they protect them from predators and help them with their nutrition. Ants also protect caterpillars from parasitoids. These parasitoids can lay eggs inside the caterpillar’s body.
When an ant feels threatened, it sends an alarm pheromone to the caterpillar. The caterpillar responds by releasing chemicals that smell like pheromones. This lures the ants to enter the nest. The ants then feed the caterpillars.
Many caterpillars also produce sounds, such as a squeaking noise, that attract ants. These ants are then motivated to continue protecting the caterpillars.
Ants may also help caterpillars by laying eggs inside the caterpillar’s body. In addition, some ants will milk caterpillars and then bring them back to the nest to feed their colony.
Ants also protect caterpillars during the night. Ants protect caterpillars from predators, but they also attack caterpillars. Unlike predators, ants cannot hear sounds due to their lack of ears.
In a study of how ants help caterpillars, researchers found that ants can be used to protect caterpillars from parasitoids. The ants’ saliva helps the caterpillars digest the food. Ants will also attack caterpillars that do not produce enough pheromones to attract ants.
Ants will also help caterpillars defend themselves against other ants. Ants are often observed building shelters for caterpillars.