Would ants carry a strawberry back to their nest? (Sara, Carver, MN, USA)


Hi,
I'm a writer, currently working on a children's story which includes an ant anecdote.

In the story, I have six ants carrying a strawberry at a strawberry farm. They carry it about 3 yards (past a child who is watching) to their anthill.

I don't want to include anything in my story that couldn't really happen. Could this scenario happen? If not what would be more likely? Less ants? More? Would they cut the strawberry into tiny pieces before carrying it?

Thanks so much for your help.
Sara


Dear Sara,

It is a very nice image! But I have never seen a group of ants carrying a strawberry. If it were very ripe, most ants would simply drink the juice inside of it. Ants tend to put more effort into bringing food back to the nest that is rich in proteins and/or fats. The major exception to this rule is the leaf-cutter ants, who use leaves or other things to feed their fungus gardens. Leaf cutter ants, especially those in the genera Atta or Acromyrmex, would happily cut up a strawberry into liftable pieces and bring those back to their nests, like this picture of an ant carrying part of an apple.

Unlike other ants, these genera of leaf cutter ants need the cellulose in leaves and other plant parts to feed their fungal gardens. The reason most ants bring food back to the colonies is to feed to their larvae; not only do the baby ants need food to grow, they are also the only ones in the colony who can chew and swallow solid food! Adult ants can sip water and other liquids, but they cannot chew food up into small enough chunks to pass through their narrow necks, so they bring large chunks of food back to their babies, their babies chew the food, swallow it, and then regurgitate the partially digested food back into their older sisters' mouths! For this reason, larval ants have sometimes been referred to as the "digestive caste" of the colony.

Leaf cutter ants actually have two "digestive castes": their fungal gardens, which digest leaves and other vegetable matter (in the case of the two genera mentioned above, at any rate), and their larvae, which chew, swallow, and regurgitate the fungus. For ants that don't grow fungi this way (including other genera of "leaf cutters" that actually use insect droppings or dead animals to feel their gardens), they wouldn't bother bringing such a sugary, cellulose-rich source of food back to the nest.

I personally think it's ok to take a few artistic liberties with children's literature. It's not impossible that some Atta or Acromyrmex would carry an entire strawberry back to their nest, and then cut it up there. But it seems much more likely that they would cut it up on site, and then carry it.

Hope this helps!
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

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