Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ant Chat Episode 33: Myrmecochory

I've already done a short show about Myrmecochory which you can see by clicking here. It was such a popular show, at least on youtube, that I decided to do another one but this time with different ants. I will hopefully do this as an annual event each year but I hope to mix it up with other plants that have elaiosome on their seeds. Unfortunately Trilliums are the only plants that I seem to have any success with as far as seed distribution goes. The Hepatica I grew this year for whatever reason didn't get any ant attention.

Fun Fact: To my knowledge there wasn't a word for seed dispersal by wasps before this episode was made. I asked James C. Trager what that might be called and he suggested the word Sphecochory. Now I'm not sure if planting in tales the seed being successfully making it to a spot where it can grow. Yellow Jackets do nest underground but I've also seen paper wasps raiding the pods for seeds and the flesh within too. Successful planting probably happens rarely but the seed is still at least being taken away from the parent plant and making it into the ground. So maybe Sphecochory will make it's way into the dictionary someday.

A Trillium seed pod turned inside out.

An Aphaenogaster rudis walking through the Trillium seeds.
Nylanderia flavipes stealing the elaiosome from Trillium seeds.
An unexpected thief terrorizes the ants away, and begins chewing off one of the seeds.
Sphecochory - Seed distribution by wasps. Why not.
A Camponotus castaneus locating a Trillium seed.
A Camponotus castaneus hauling a Trillium seed home.


  1. Hello, I'm working on a starting a non-profit. I need a picture of an ant with a trillium seed. Can I use one of yours? And do you know if Solenopsis ants are attracted to the trilliums? My understanding is that they will eat the elaiosome but they don't necessarily carry the seeds away.

    1. Sure you can use a photo, just credit me (Chris Murrow). I'm sure Solenopsis enjoy Trillium seeds but it might depend on the size of the species. The smaller Thief Ants in the molesta group of the genus are far too small to move the seeds, but some of the larger Fire Ant species (which we have some natives of) will more than likely carry the seed home. Ants planting the seeds in general is kind of a novelty hit or miss tactic anyhow. Some species will carry the seeds 4' before giving up. That disperses the seed but doesn't really plant it. When they get into the nest, are they at the right depth? Are they later removed as trash (I saw one colony do this, this past year)? And do the ants later eat the seed itself or kill the plant when it finally germinates?