Acacia Tree & Ants

For many years, it has been known that acacia trees (see picture) have a symbiotic relationship with ant colonies. The acacia tree produces a specialized structure to shelter and feed the ant colony. The ants, in turn, defend the tree against encroaching weeds and hungry animals…payment for their room and board. Just the stirring of the branches by a browsing animal can bring the biting ants swarming to the spot, chasing off the predator. This is one of the most iconic alliances known in nature. But in recent years, researchers from Mexico have discovered that some acacias have a unique mechanism to keep the insects consigned to a life of indentured servitude. They found that the tree’s sugary snacks are laced with an enzyme that prevents the ants from eating other sources of sugar. As soon as baby ants take a sip of the acacia nectar, their digestive system becomes chemically altered so that they cannot digest alternative sweet foods that ants normally would eat. Dr. Martin Heil was surprised that the immobile, ‘passive’ plant could manipulate the seemingly much more active partner, the ant. This is like a dairy company selling cheap, lactose-free milk that has been chemically altered to render its customers unable to digest normal milk ever again! Could all of these chemical triggers have come along by happenchance? Or did a wise Creator delight in giving organism complex biochemical systems that could benefit it in various environments?

Posted on June 2, 2024 by dwoetzel.