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10 Amazing Animals That Farm

Agriculture is one of humanity’s brightest ideas. By growing plants, we could establish ourselves in a place with a reliable source of food. However, humans aren’t the only bright sparks to come up with this idea. In fact, in the animal world, we are relatively new to the game.

Here are 10 animals that could be argued to be farmers. Many of these relationships could be described as symbiotic and mutually beneficial, but at the end of the day, one half of this couple is eating the other.

Related: Top 10 Animals With Creepy Behaviors

10 leafcutter ants

Ants of the Antinni tribe (including species Cyphomyrmex longiscapus and Cyphomyrmex muelleri) depend on the fungus they cultivate. And there are more than 78 species of fungus-growing ants.

These leafcutter ants create a colorful and intriguing sight as they march across the forest floor with large pieces of leaves on their heads. However, these ants do not consume the leaves that they cut and take home. Instead, these leaves are used to nourish your mushroom gardens. Once the fungus has used up the nutrients it can get from the leaves, the ants dispose of the waste in garbage piles. The ants also secrete antimicrobials that protect the fungus.

This fungal culture forms the major food source for the colony and feeds the ant larvae. The fungus is so important that to start a new colony, a future queen will take a piece of the crop to form the base of a new garden. The reason they can’t just select any piece of mushroom to start growing is that the ants grow their crops in climates that are not suitable for growing wild mushrooms. Each colony grows a monoculture of fungi and uses bacteria to prevent unwanted parasitic fungi from growing like weeds in their crops.[1]

9 shepherd ants

Ants don’t just grow crops to feed their colonies; instead, some species tend to the cattle equivalent. Ant species like Crematogaster scutellaris they tend to colonies of aphids from which they then milk honeydew. Honeydew is a sweet, sugar-rich secretion that aphids produce from the sap of the plant they feed on. To harvest the honeydew, the ants stroke the sides of an aphid which will then release the sugary droplets.

Ants do not just opportunistically feed on aphid colonies they encounter. Instead, the ants keep their herd of aphids on the lower part of the plant to ensure they have access to the juiciest parts and are protected from predators under the leaves. Scientists have discovered that the chemicals in ant tracks, which are also used to signal other ants and mark territory, have a calming effect on aphids. These chemicals keep the aphids calm and limit the chance of members straying from the pack.

More frighteningly, ants have also been known to bite into the wings of aphids to make sure they don’t fly away. During the winter, some species of ants have also been known to bring aphid eggs into their nests to prevent low temperatures from killing their flock.[2]

8 termites

The story of termite farming puts the timelines of human farming to shame. While humans began farming roughly 10,000 years ago, fossils show us 25-million-year-old termite fungus farms. Macrotermitin termites tend to produce fungi, similar to those described above for leafcutter ants.

However, termites do not carry large pieces of leaves to grow their crops. Instead, termites deposit chewed-up portions of plant material, including leaves and wood, which are inedible to termites. These previously chewed pellets become sites for fungal spores to flourish and develop into large mushrooms.

As the fungus grows, it breaks down cellulose and lignin, which termites cannot digest, into a nutritious compost. This provides two forms of food for the termites, as they eat the fungus and the compost.

By cultivating mushrooms inside their nests, termites can survive in drier climates since they have a constant source of food protected within the mound. As the fungus breaks down parts of plant material that termites cannot digest, the amount of nutrition they can obtain from the surrounding vegetation also increases.[3]

7 ambrosia beetles

Ambrosia beetles are members of the weevil family and there are several thousand known species worldwide. These beetles get their name from their food source: ragweed. The word “ambrosia” means food of the gods. However, the “ragweed” that these weevils eat is a fungus.

Ambrosia beetles bore into the wood of trees to create tunnels where they breed their larvae and store their crop of fungi. During development, ambrosia beetles eat exclusively from their fungal garden. Adults in a colony are responsible for harvesting the fungus, which trims off parts of it to promote further growth. When it’s time to change a tree, literally, the beetles have a special organ (mycangia) to carry and hold the fungus while transporting it.[4]

6 Litorina snails

Stepping back for a moment from high-end food production that requires cultivation and nutrition, it’s time to introduce the Littorina snail. This periwinkle likes to feed on mushrooms; However, in order to create lush fields of food to feast on, they first do something very risky. These snails go above the water, where they are most visible to predators, to gnaw on blades of marsh grass. This activity puzzled scientists, since bog grass does not have a particularly high nutritional value for snails, and the open air is detrimental to them. However, this activity is a short term pain for a long term gain.

Damaged bog grass covered with snail waste fertilizer is the perfect condition for mushrooms to grow. This fungus has a very high nutritional value for Littorina snails. This form of farming is not as practical as the previous examples that require the farming of animals to grow their crops. However, it is an effective way for snails to maximize their food source.[5]

5 the barnacle of the owl

This is the largest limpet in North America growing up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. These small mollusks are very territorial and defend their gardens by charging at intruders from rocks. Protecting their homes is important, as they graze carefully and grow algae to support themselves.

They maintain a mat of algae about 1 square foot (1000 square centimeters) in size through a mucus they secrete. When owl limpets graze on your algae gardens, they leave a slimy trail that encourages algae growth. They don’t stray too far from home because retracing their mucoid trails ensures a rich growing environment.

It takes about three weeks for an owl limpet to establish a farm if placed in an arid environment. However, it can be devastating to the ecosystem if the limpet is removed, as the farm will be completely devoured and left without sustenance by other algae eaters in the span of just two weeks. An owl limpet can maintain the same garden through staggered feeding and mucus secretion for about four years.

It should be noted that only the females of the species exhibit this behavior. Rather, males are opportunistic eaters who often find their food by raiding the farms of nearby females until they are driven from the territory.[6]

4 Damsel

Long-finned damselfish are exceptional breeders. They not only keep a crop, but also have domesticated shrimp, which help fertilize the farm.

Damselfish can only eat certain types of algae as their digestive system can’t handle anything too fibrous. To ensure they have an adequate supply of food, the fish establish territories where they eliminate unwanted algae, allowing their chosen crop to flourish. In many regions, the algae that damselfish eat is found exclusively within farms. Outside of the influence of the fish, other species of algae overgrow and outgrow it.

To protect their farms, damselfish are very quick to scare off intruders, except for one tiny zooplankton: the mysid shrimp. Damselfish maintain swarms of shrimp on farms, which is important for algae growth. While the shrimp are protected from predators, they are busy depositing debris on the farm that enriches the algae. The researchers compared damselfish farms with and without shrimp swarms and found that shrimp farms have higher quality algae.[7]

3 upside down jellyfish

These jellyfish have many names; however, the Cassiopea jellyfish is probably best known for its strange habit of lying on its stomach. The spotted jellyfish doesn’t spend a lot of time swimming and instead cultivates algae (zooxanthellae) that grows inside its body. By turning around, the jellyfish exposes its underside to the sun, which is essential for the algae to photosynthesize and provide nutrition.

For most species, this seaweed farm meets most but not all of their nutritional needs. About 10-30% of the rest of the jellyfish diet comes from capturing food with their tentacles. It uses stinging cells to stun zooplankton, then directs the stunned food into its mouth.[8]

2 yeti crabs

Deep in the ocean, scientists have found crabs with large, hairy arms that resemble the limbs one might find on the abominable snowman. However, these distinctive weapons serve an important purpose. Yeti crabs grow bacteria on these hairy claws, ensuring they have a constant supply of food.

Other creatures, like deep-sea shrimp, have bacteria on their bodies that they feed on; however, yeti crabs are different. Crabs cultivate the bacteria by waving their claws over fluid escaping from deep-sea hydrothermal vents or methane vents. This behavior washes nutrients over the bacteria in an environment totally removed from our sun-loving life forms. Without the undulating, rhythmic dance of the crab, the bacterium would deplete its supply of methane or oxygen.

The yeti crab harvests its crop of bacteria by using specialized hairs around its mouth to scrape its claws.[9]

1 pocket waffles

Looking through the list so far, one might celebrate that humans are the only mammals to breed. However, today’s final entry proves that we are not. These feisty burrowing rodents grow roots in their tunnels to supply up to 60% of their diet.

Digging requires a lot of energy, and pocket gophers may have found a way to ensure they have a constant source of food by carefully cutting and fertilizing the roots in their tunnels. Like other entries on this list, pocket gophers don’t plant the crops they eat; however, their behavior ensures the growth and spread of this food source.

Inside pocket gopher tunnels, the air is humid and the soil is packed with nutrients from gopher waste. The roots of nearby vegetation flourish in these conditions. Gophers harvest these nutritional intrusions, which promotes further growth.[10]

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