Woolly Aphids? No, not my latest installation piece, something even cooler.
Yesterday as I was ambling towards the Alder to pick some cones for dyeing, I noticed a mass of white on one of the branches. I thought at first it was some kind of fungus but when I looked closer I saw that this mass of "fungus" was moving ever so slightly. Ants were walking to and fro and at first I thought they were eating these things, whatever they were, but as I watched for a while it seemed they were acting like little sheep herders instead.
(be sure to click on the pictures to see them a bit larger)
I pulled the branch down a little lower so I could get a better look and one of the bigger ants ran towards my hand, clearly perturbed that I was messing with their flock. I noticed that the ants were kind of stroking the white mass with their antennae and the word that came to mind was that they were "tending" these things and the little black spots looked like aphids. When I came in and googled "ants tending aphids" I found my answer. (don't you love it when it happens like that? Sometimes I have the hardest time finding information but this just fell in my lap)
These ants were tending aphids. Woolly Alder Aphids. These aphids secrete a sweet substance called honeydew which the ants love. Some species of ants will tend a flock of aphids, gently stroking them to gather up the honeydew. It is said that some ants will eat so much their abdomen will become huge with the stuff. Easy on the sweets, boys. Everything in moderation...
This was my "man, nature is awesome" moment of the day and I wanted to share it with you.
I hope you're bumping into amazing things today too.