Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ants and Treehoppers

These treehoppers are being protected by a squad of ants. In this case, it’s the Allegheny Mound Builder Ants providing the bodyguard service. These seem to be the dominant ants in the area.

Treehoppers penetrate the plant stem with their tube-like mouth and drink the sap. Like many insects that feed in this manner, the treehoppers discharge from their bodies a sugary solution called honeydew. Many insects are attracted to the honeydew, but it’s usually the ants that claim this bounty and aggressively defend the source.

When undisturbed, the ants spend their time collecting honeydew and tending to the treehoppers. If not taken by the ants, the honeydew will begin to grow mold that may cause the death of the treehoppers. The ants get fed and the treehoppers are relieved of a dangerous byproduct.

The slightest disturbance will cause ants to strike a defensive pose with antennae raised and mandibles open.

The collection of treehoppers typically consists of a few adults and many nymphs. The adults are winged and may leave to establish colonies on new plants.

Colonies can grow to be quite large. I found all of these colonies on Giant Ragweed plants. There was not one plant that didn’t have at least one treehopper colony.


  1. ...this is just cool. I've got to go get my son. He will love it. I might as well get my hubby too, he will find it interesting as well!

  2. ...had to let you know. When I showed the post to Matty he was intrigued and said, "Cool, that's a great example of mutual symbiosis." (...good to know he's paying attention in school and appreciates nature!)

  3. Kelly - I'm glad my blog can offer an opportunity for Family Time. My youngest is just heading off to college, so family activities won't be as spontaneous as they have been in the past.