Domesticating ants

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Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 16th, 2015, 2:23 pm 

i'm currently trying to learn to farm, taking lessons from my dad. he is plagued by a particularly nasty weevil, the cow pea weevil, which deposits its eggs in the peapod and spoils it (actually, it's fine, but people don't like to eat bugs). when the larva matures, it crawls out, falls to the ground and pupates.

in reading up on this pest, i came across an article that stated that the best control for cow pea weevils is the presence of fire ants. FIRE ANTS??? at this very moment i have no less than three stings on my feet, each of which will develop into painful necrotic sores (or, rather, they would have had i not denatured the necrolyzing enzyme with bleach). hated things. but in truth, they do no harm to the plants and efficiently scour the soil for insects, including the pupating weevils.

so.....interesting. imagine a tropical species of ant - tropical because they cannot survive frosts. this species of ant is tightly bound to its hive and they rarely move their hives. they are also exclusively diurnal, returning to their hives at night. this species is 100% insectivorous and rabidly so. each morning they fan out from their hive, and any bug that can't fly gets eaten. then come dusk, they return home.....and the farmer seals the artificial hive and moves it to the next garden plot.

i'm an ecologist, i KNOW all the potential disasters here, but the BENEFITS! an organic pesticide. pests evolve resistance to chemical pesticides - domestic ants evolve just as fast as the pests.

okay, tell why this is crazy and impossible....
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 16th, 2015, 2:38 pm 

This ...

i'm an ecologist


sounds completely incompatible with ...

taking lessons from my dad


I'm inclined to guess you're in middle or high school, in which case it merits mentioning that having a casual interest in ecology is NOT the same as being a trained professional Ecologist, with a degree. You need to be more careful in your word choice, when mentioning credentials and/or background on themed fora like this one.

Also,

i KNOW all the potential disasters here


Forgive me for being direct, but I don't think you do. That's a bold statement that I'd tempted to take even a trained professional down to the mat on.

My recommendation: do some self-directed reading on botany and entomology in order to get better informed on both.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Braininvat on September 16th, 2015, 3:25 pm 

I would also think carefully about deliberately introducing fire ants anywhere. While recognizing the merits of biological checks on species over poisonous chems, fire ants are about as welcome in the continental US as kudzu or Asian carp or Africanized killer bees.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Paralith on September 16th, 2015, 5:52 pm 

If you could control those ants as reliably and securely as you are describing, perhaps. If you could be certain that your ants are not also rabidly consuming species other than your pest species to a degree that is detrimental to your farm and the local environment, perhaps.

People have had similar ideas before, to import a purported prey species of a pest species they are struggling with. Not having a clear understanding and/or good methods of control has lead to more than a few disasters. Just look up the cane toad in Australia.

The idea of working within an existing predator/prey dynamic has some merit, I think, but you're probably better off trying to encourage and cultivate the presence of one or more predator species that are already native to that environment. I remember my mother ordering lady bugs (not the Asian beetle lookalikes) to dump onto her rose garden so that they would be encouraged to eat the aphids plaguing her flowers. It was fairly effective but the lady bugs were of course free to disperse into the environment after that. Not to mention that the scale of a suburban garden and a fully functioning farm are very different. A ton of lady bugs dumped on the neighborhood might have had a lot more ill effects.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby wolfhnd on September 16th, 2015, 10:29 pm 

The idea of domesticating insects is interesting. The silk worm comes to mind as an example of people working with insects I suspect that the honey bee is the best example of domesticated insects but some people may debate the true meaning of domestication.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby wolfhnd on September 16th, 2015, 11:16 pm 

In the past domestication meant breeding for desired traits but today we have other options including genetic engineering.

"The British company Oxitec use a technique called RIDL (Release of Insects with Dominant Lethality), that can produce fertile male adults that induce a high mortality of the descendants. The adults generated with this technique and released in the environment are not sterile but their descendants have a survival rate of 0% (this lethality can be switched off by introducing the antibiotic, tetracycline, into their diet). This company is currently(written 3/23/15) working on releasing these insects into Florida Keys, reducing the amount of wild insects that carry disease."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetical ... ied_insect



Here is Oxitec's website

http://www.oxitec.com/oxitec-video/more ... osquitoes/

If you don't want to follow the link he is how it works.

"The Sterile Insect Technique was successfully used to eradicate screw-worm (a pest of cattle) in North America. It has also been successful in reducing populations of other pests, such as eradicating the Tsetse fly, which causes sleeping sickness, in Zanzibar.

SIT uses the natural instincts of the released male mosquitoes to seek out females, so it is much more effective than traditional means at targeting difficult-to-reach pest populations, like Aedes aegypti. It is also species-specific: it affects only the target pest, and doesn’t harm other insects.

Unfortunately, using radiation to produce sterile insects in this way can cause problems. Not surprisingly, being hit by a large amount of radiation isn’t very good for the male insects! Often, irradiated males are very sickly, so wild females prefer not to mate with them. If that happens, they won’t be very effective at controlling the population. While SIT has been used successfully against some insect pests, mosquitoes are easily damaged by the process of irradiation, and to date there have not been any successful programmes of mosquito population control using radiation-based SIT.

Genetic engineering of sterile insects

Oxitec has developed a new way to control mosquitoes using genetic modification. Our approach is similar to the sterile insect technique, but because we use genetics to stop our insects from reproducing, we eliminate the need for damaging irradiation.

Scientists at Oxitec have developed a way to modify mosquitoes by adding a gene which produces a protein that stops their cells from functioning normally. The gene produces a protein called tTA, which is a special kind of protein able to act as a switch that controls the activity of other genes. Our modified mosquitoes produce high levels of this protein because it actually activates its own gene, producing lots more of itself. Although it’s not toxic itself, it ties up some of the cell’s essential machinery. It can interact with other proteins which are needed for controlling genes in the cell, and in this way it stops the cell from turning on other genes which are essential for it to survive.

All this means that the modified mosquitoes become very sick, and die before reaching adulthood.

How can we breed genetically ‘sterile’ mosquitoes?

If the gene in the modified mosquitoes kills them, how does that make them sterile? That depends on another special property of the gene, and the tTA protein it makes: when the mosquitoes reared in the presence of tetracycline, it stops the tTA from working: in effect, it acts like an antidote.

So when we feed the modified mosquitoes with this supplement in the lab, they stay perfectly healthy. But when the male mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, their children inherit the lethal gene. Tetracycline is not present in the environment in sufficient quantities to allow survival, so without the ‘antidote’ in their diet, the children of the modified mosquitoes die.

Because of this, the Oxitec genetically modified mosquitoes are effectively sterile. When radiation is used to sterilise insects, as we saw earlier, their offspring die at a very early stage of development – before hatching. With the Oxitec technique, the insect’s offspring die later in life, but the effect is the same: when a genetically modified male mates with a wild female, her children will die before reaching adulthood, so the population is reduced."
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 17th, 2015, 4:32 am 

I'm inclined to guess you're in middle or high school, in which case it merits mentioning that having a casual interest in ecology is NOT the same as being a trained professional Ecologist, with a degree. You need to be more careful in your word choice, when mentioning credentials and/or background on themed fora like this one.


guess again. i'm 43 and three years into a phd in ecology and epidemiology. credentials enough? if you really want to pull 'em and measure, GRE 1540/1600, IQ 160+. love how you slipped in the 'fora' shibboleth. do you enjoy your superior smirk when mere mortals say ' ...the data is convincing'. i lived in the ghetto before storming the ivory tower and have little patience for elitist BS. back off but peace, let's discuss this like the dry, dispassionate people we must pretend to be.

i'm not suggesting introducing fire ants anywhere, which would be remarkably redundant in any case. as i mentioned, the land in already crawling the hateful beasts. i was proposing looking for a different species of tropical ant, one that can't survive a temperate winter and thus has no chance of establishing itself in the wild.

as for the impracticality, i admit there are many - but we've done it with bees, and they can *fly*. we think nothing of picking up a hive of bees and moving it to a new orchard for pollination. and consider the benefits - see how the ants zealously protect the Acacias. why should their insectivory be indiscriminate? in the existing natural systems of plant/ant mutualism it isn't. in fact, the ants take great care in protecting and providing for their plants. yes, this is WAY outside of the box, but the potential....
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 17th, 2015, 9:27 am 

tantric wrote:guess again. i'm 43 and three years into a phd in ecology and epidemiology. credentials enough?

Assuming true, my apologies on the incorrect assumption about being a teen.

This site gets a LOT of low post count teen students ... people who rarely fill in any bio information in their profile. In hindsight, given the youthful choice of words in your OP (and the lack of technical content), I don't think my guess at the time was overly far fetched.

tantric wrote:if you really want to pull 'em and measure, GRE 1540/1600, IQ 160+.

Didn't ask, but since you raised it, I'll digress briefly:

Take my advice on something: IQwagging is always a faux pas, regardless of company present. A high sigma, by itself, doesn't mean squat. It doesn't make someone more knowledgeable (plenty of high sigma people drop out of school and/or fail to amount to anything professionally) or a better person (sometimes the opposite, since there's a generally positive correlation with varying types and levels of social dysfunction), and it's usually insecure people with something to prove who throw scores around in polite conversation, which is another reason to inch away from them. The generally accepted etiquitte in most IQ Society circles is to either never mention such things at all (except on applications that specifically ask), or to hide it somewhere out of the way, where curious people can search it out, but where most people won't notice and toss eggs.

Ok, back on topic ...
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Braininvat on September 17th, 2015, 10:31 am 

...except for me to drop in my favorite IQ factoid: Richard Feynman's IQ was 125. If I hadn't already seen the decline of the credibility of IQ as an accurate measure of intellectual capacity, this would still have been the coup de grace for me.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 17th, 2015, 11:09 am 

okay, apologies, i'm well aware of my vulgarity and of the dubious value of IQ scores. allow me to lower myself a bit more and dispel a bit of disingeniousness. when i said i'm 3 years into a phd, i was implying that i am in fact still in the program. that is not the case. three years in and a random bit of my past caught up with me, whereupon the wise and merciful state in which i live decided that i could better serve mankind working in a slave factory making those ubiquitous green and white street signs, amidst a maximum security prison. i survived that, but obviously, not with damage. to say i have anger issues is a staggering understatement. once again, my bad, but now perhaps you can empathize a bit.

so yeah, convicted felon, grad school dropout with a load of student loans i defaulted on while locked up. thus, farming. the odd bit is that when i'm out picking peas or blueberries, i feel a deep, spiritual peace, almost bliss, that i never felt in grad school. i enjoy this new life, given what i've been through, i'm ready to truly appreciate it. c'est la vie.

see how i have fallen - i don't even have JSTOR access. weep for me ;-)

peace?
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Braininvat on September 17th, 2015, 11:26 am 

Interesting story about what sounds like an "outlier" in terms of prison statistics. I hope you may find a way, perhaps with the proceeds from peas and blueberries and such, to finish off that PhD, should the spirit ever move you in that worldly direction. My grandfather farmed and there have been times in my life when the turbulence and hectic quality of urban life made me genuinely consider a return to the land. Who knows what inspirations you will find out there in the fields. You can share them here, unless you are planning to patent them and must avoid public disclosure. :-)
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 17th, 2015, 1:21 pm 

tantric » September 17th, 2015, 11:09 am wrote:okay, apologies, i'm well aware of my vulgarity and of the dubious value of IQ scores. allow me to lower myself a bit more and dispel a bit of disingeniousness. when i said i'm 3 years into a phd, i was implying that i am in fact still in the program. that is not the case. three years in and a random bit of my past caught up with me, whereupon the wise and merciful state in which i live decided that i could better serve mankind working in a slave factory making those ubiquitous green and white street signs, amidst a maximum security prison. i survived that, but obviously, not with damage. to say i have anger issues is a staggering understatement. once again, my bad, but now perhaps you can empathize a bit.

so yeah, convicted felon, grad school dropout with a load of student loans i defaulted on while locked up. thus, farming. the odd bit is that when i'm out picking peas or blueberries, i feel a deep, spiritual peace, almost bliss, that i never felt in grad school. i enjoy this new life, given what i've been through, i'm ready to truly appreciate it. c'est la vie.

see how i have fallen - i don't even have JSTOR access. weep for me ;-)

peace?


Peace. Blueberries are my "safe word" and are always good for a free pass, in nearly all circumstances. :-)

I can empathize with life path derailment, in my case due to spinal issues, chronic pain, cancer, and a few other things. I'll politely stop there, because I'm not comfortable oversharing (hence my non-existent presence on social media), and sympathy sours my stomach. That's just me.

Back on topic.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby wolfhnd on September 17th, 2015, 11:22 pm 

Braininvat » Thu Sep 17, 2015 3:26 pm wrote: My grandfather farmed and there have been times in my life when the turbulence and hectic quality of urban life made me genuinely consider a return to the land.


I remember as a kid my very contagiously frightened mother would have us all gather together and pray every time a storm seemed to threaten the wheat crop so I'm not so sure about the concept of lowered stress. ;-)

I mentioned an article on genetically modified insects as a form of domestication that had real potential. At the extreme end of the GM spectrum we simple leave the fields to go wild and "grow" our food in vats. Sort of like having your cake and eating it if you enjoy the out of doors.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 17th, 2015, 11:27 pm 

Wolfhnd: Somehow, I think the lyrics of America the Beautiful would lose their poetic luster if we change "amber waves of grain" to "hydroponic vats of goo". j/k
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 18th, 2015, 1:18 am 

it's not that the article on GMO insects isn't a good direction, nor is it an objection to GMO in principle. my problem is real world issue of how GMO's are dealt with legally. i was envisioning a tool to help farmers reduce their use of chemical pesticides, but if they have to pay BigAg every time they use it, if they get sued for breeding their own new hives instead of buying them...well, that's not helping.

i can easily see how an amino acid deletion a la Jurassic park (the dinos couldn't make lysine and were thus dependent on an artificiial supply) would be a a fantastic control mechanism...still, people in developing nations aren't going be using them.

also, consider the Mofu people in Cameroon. when their huts are infested with termites, they dig up colonies of Dorylus driver ants and bring them inside. i'm having a hard time finding journal references to this in english, but from the transcript of Nova's Mater of the Killer Ants i gather that only a handful of Dorylus workers are collected and brought into the house, whereupon they go straight for the termite queen, causing the termites to abandon the hut.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 18th, 2015, 1:48 am 

wow, i failed to do my basic research here. skunked - Ants as Tools in Sustainable Agriculture, Journal of Applied Ecology.. i think that link will work for everyone.

excerpts:
"It is a ‘low-tech, low cost’ methodology. What is
needed is know-how on weaver ant management, a piece
of rope or liana and a pruner. This allows even the most
resource poor farmers and growers to adopt the technol-
ogy, given they are informed about its existence and
trained in its use."

"These recent publications provide ample evidence of ant
species that bear potential to be utilized in crop protec-
tion."


domestic weaver ants are also grown as a food source for humans (ant 'eggs') in indonesia.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 18th, 2015, 1:59 am 

Braininvat » September 17th, 2015, 11:26 am wrote:Interesting story about what sounds like an "outlier" in terms of prison statistics. I hope you may find a way, perhaps with the proceeds from peas and blueberries and such, to finish off that PhD, should the spirit ever move you in that worldly direction. My grandfather farmed and there have been times in my life when the turbulence and hectic quality of urban life made me genuinely consider a return to the land. Who knows what inspirations you will find out there in the fields. You can share them here, unless you are planning to patent them and must avoid public disclosure. :-)


the curious thing is that prison restored my faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity. just as an example, my bunkmate 'ran store' meaning he bought large amounts from the commissary (think ramen, which is the basic unit of currency) and resold them later in the week. but he didn't do it for personal profit, he took the net profit in foodstuffs and gave it to people who had no money coming in from the outside. as a part of his clique, every afternoon when i went to medical to get my insulin shot i went directly to the cafe to eat, was i was supposed to. then later, when our dorm ate, i'd go again and give my tray to another person in our group (believe it our not, or DM in our weekly AD&D session). also, it was a fantastic chance for applied game theory, particularly variants on the hawk-dove game and the ways by which networks of reciprocal altruism are established and maintained. you really get to see the value of hamiltonian spite. when you betray your in-group in prison, the least you can expect to to promptly have the crap beaten out of you, even though the beater will certainly spend time in solitary for doing it. if you're really interested in my observations, just say so and i'll start a new thread elsewhere. somebody ought to benefit from it.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 18th, 2015, 7:05 am 

tantric » September 18th, 2015, 1:48 am wrote:wow, i failed to do my basic research here. skunked - Ants as Tools in Sustainable Agriculture, Journal of Applied Ecology.. i think that link will work for everyone.

domestic weaver ants are also grown as a food source for humans (ant 'eggs') in indonesia.


Interesting article.

However, I spotted a major problem: most of the studies cited within it are for tree-based fruit grown in tropical climes, not small row-planted peas grown in temperate climes. Weaver ants are arboreal, and build their nests out of the leaves of the trees they patrol, and peas are not trees.

It's an interesting angle, but it looks like you'd need to find a different species of ant to pursue it.

Looks promising for the coffee industry however, which is currently suffering from the leaf rust problem.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby tantric on September 18th, 2015, 10:49 am 

Interesting article.

However, I spotted a major problem: most of the studies cited within it are for tree-based fruit grown in tropical climes, not small row-planted peas grown in temperate climes. Weaver ants are arboreal, and build their nests out of the leaves of the trees they patrol, and peas are not trees.

It's an interesting angle, but it looks like you'd need to find a different species of ant to pursue it.

Looks promising for the coffee industry however, which is currently suffering from the leaf rust problem.


[facepalm]

y'all, seriously. in any case, you're wrong - the Fabacease family (peas and legumes) includes many trees, even the acacias. that's beside the point - what on earth do you gain by saying something like that?

[quote]“Weaver ants need a canopy for their nests, so they are limited to plantations and forestry in the tropics. But ground-living ants can be used in annual crops such as maize and sugar cane. European wood ants are renowned for controlling pests in forestry, and new projects are trying to use wood ants to control winter moths in apple orchards. Ants could even be used to fight plant pathogens because they produce antibiotics to combat diseases in their dense societies,” he explains.

Ants are as Effective as Pesticides

my point was that i'd been scooped and this is already happening. now, how about domestic termites as a food source?????
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby Darby on September 18th, 2015, 12:01 pm 

My bad ... I thought that by linking the article prominently, it seemed like you were positing weaver ants as a possible alternative to the fire ants mention in the OP. I see now that you were extolling the technique, not the species.
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Re: Domesticating ants

Postby wolfhnd on September 18th, 2015, 10:17 pm 

I like ants and try not to poison them in the yard, same goes for spiders. I have even been known to let spiders have the run of a corner of a room and if necessary I remove them carefully to the outdoors.

Sometimes however our ant friends can be "bad". While we typically let ants control pest on plants, and are necessary for the peonies, occasionally they will farm aphids in my wife's orchids. We cannot seem to get along without pesticides at my house but with careful use we seem to have a healthy insect population.
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