Last Saturday, as I was teaching a class of volunteer docents about our local wildflowers, one of the docents asked, “What about ants? I see them on flowers all the time. Do they pollinate flowers?”
I smiled (a bit sheepishly, I might add) and said I would get back to her. And here is what I found….
In the natural world, ant pollination is rare. Here are three possible reasons why.
1) Ant don’t fly – they “march” (Hurrah! Hurrah!). Most pollinators fly: birds, bats, bees, butterflies, moths and even some beetles. This means they can carry pollen longer distances and can cross-pollinate different individual plants of the same species. But “marching” ants normally don’t travel very far, so cross-pollinization is more difficult to achieve.
2) Ants are tiny creatures: “…their small size allows them to forage on flowers without touching stigmas or anthers…”. You can’t collect pollen without first touching the anthers and you can’t transfer pollen without touching the stigmas.
3) Some ants carry their own “medicine cabinet” around with them. Scientists have found that “some ants and their larvae secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. This secretion protects ants from bacterial and fungal infections.” However, “this secretion also kills a pollen grain very rapidly when it comes in contact with” it.
But even though it is rare, there are a few plants that can be pollinated by ants. According to the US Forest Service, these plants “are typically:
Have small inconspicuous flowers
Have flowers that are close to the stem”.
Here in Southern California, one possibility could be Rattlesnake Weed, (Chamaesyce albomarginata), sometimes classified as Euphorbia albomarginata, a type of low growing Spurge. Recent studies in Europe suggest that ants can pollinate a related species of spurge, Euphorbia cyparissias. But we don’t know for sure about our Rattlesnake Weed.
Rattlesnake Weed (Chamaesyce albomarginata)
Which leads me to my answer to the docent’s question: I’d say that vast majority of the ants we see on flowering plants are not there as pollinators.
But this raises another question: So why are they there? Let’s take a look at that question next week.
Free Birding App. For those of you who are looking for a good birding app for your Apple cellphone or iPad, the Cornell Lab of Ornitholgy is offering a free app. Click here for more information.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, March 15, 8-10 am. Friendly Flyers. Are there ways we can be more “friendly” to the birds around us? Learn about our region’s birds and how our behavior can sometimes affect theirs. Beginning birders are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet at TowsleyCanyon’s front parking lot. Click here for map and directions.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, March 5, 12, 19, & 26.
Saturday mornings, March 15.
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has a website with trail maps of our local open spaces.
There’s also a new website for bicycle riders.
Ask Dr. Norm: Do you have questions about the flora, fauna, animals, rocks, etc. in our Santa Clarita Valley? Here’s a place for you to ask your questions. Dr. Norman Herr, Ph.D., is a professor of science and computer education at CaliforniaStateUniversity, Northridge.
Tell Us About Your Hike: Here’s a new website where you can post pictures, provide feedback and make suggestions about the City of Santa Clarita’s trails and open spaces.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
Or check out our Facebook page – L.A. Mountains
Source: Santa Clarita News