Swollen-thorn acacias without ants are a sad sight

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As the more clever among you surmised, Wednesday’s mystery photo depicted an ant-acacia without a large colony of protective ants strung up with vines. Another giveaway that the poor plant hadn’t developed friendly ants, though not visible in the previous posting, was the abundance of Beltian bodies:

Swollen-thorn acacias produce yellow Beltian bodies to feed their guardian ants. The bodies sit unharvested on this ant-less plant. (Armenia, Belize)

A healthy plant with ants sees the yellow food bodies harvested as soon as they are ripe, like so:

Pseudomyrmex peperi pulls a ripe Beltian body from an acacia leaf.

The ants repay the plant’s generosity by protecting it from intruding vines and other competing plants:

Pseudomyrmex peperi pull a unwelcome tendril off their Acacia host. Note that the Beltian bodies have already been harvested from this inhabited plant, leaving the leaflet tips barren.
More Pseudomyrmex workers team up to attack an intruding vine.

To photograph this scene during our whirlwind 4 days in Belize, I couldn’t just wait for a vine to happen by the Acacia. I’d still be there. Instead, I staged the lower photos by clipping some tendrils from the first, unprotected plant and applying them to the protected plant to watch the action. As expected, the ants didn’t hesitate to perform their guard duties.

By the way, Belize was unexpectedly charming. Hardly anyone lives in the country. The human population is only 300,000, so Belize retains the undeveloped rural ambiance I imagine was commonplace a century ago across much of Central & South America and is now sadly rare between the sprawl of cities and conversion to mechanized agriculture. Belizean forests are largely intact, the air is clean, the roads are empty of traffic, and the people are friendly. We’ll be going back.

5 thoughts on “Swollen-thorn acacias without ants are a sad sight”

  1. Was this tree a young sapling or relatively old? Maybe the tree just hasn’t had a chance to recruit queens yet, or perhaps its colony died out?

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