Few stories of mutualism in nature are more common than those of the honeydew-producing aphids and the ants that tend them. In theory, by attracting ants, aphids gain protection from predators. Yet, the Tapinoma in my garden are doing a simply horrible job of protecting their charges from anything. Here are some photographs from just now.
I watched as an aphidiine braconid strolled effortlessly among ants on the bergamot, nonchalantly injecting eggs into the helpless aphids. The ants didn’t seem to notice, or care. Here’s a closer crop of the above photo:
The ants also weren’t doing anything about the predatory syrphid fly larvae grazing through the herd. As if to prove its point, a larva camps out next to the mummified corpse of an aphid (the brown ball at lower left) that the ants failed to protect from a parasitoid wasp:
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the ants’ ineptitude. They can’t even protect themselves:
Oh, nature. Never quite doing what you’re supposed to.
***update. Ok, that last photo needs to be memed.