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No, Earth's First Farmers Were Not Humans but Fijian Ants

Nov 27, 2016 04:10 AM EST
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A new research from the University of Munich reveals that the first farmers on Earth millions of years ago were not human beings but, were in fact, Fijian ants, who knew how to sow seeds, fertilize them and grow them into plants.
(Photo : Nurcholis Anhari Lubis/Getty Images)

Have you ever wondered who invented agriculture? A new research from the University of Munich reveals that the first farmers on Earth millions of years ago were not human beings but, were in fact, Fijian ants.

The study, published in the journal Nature Plants, reveals that Fijian ant species called Philidris nagasau knew how to sow seeds, fertilize them and grow them into plants. The two researchers, Guillaume Chomicki and Susanne Renner, closely observed the behavior of Fijian ants inside their domatia, a closed structure at the base of plant stems where they live. There, the researchers observed how these ants sow and nurture plants.

"I first noticed the relationship when I saw dozens of these ant-filled plants clustered in the same trees," Chomicki told NPR. He further explained that the Fijian ants gather Squamellaria seeds, which they put inside cracks of trees. For fertilization, the ants use their own poop and then harvest the seeds of the plants when they're fully grown.

"The story is unique. We already have ants that disperse seeds, and have ants that feed plants, but we've never had a case where they farm a plant they can't live without," said Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences.

Fisher explains that apart from Fijian ants, another ant species, leaf-cutter ants, has been farming for at least eight million years. However, different from Fijian ants, leaf-cutter ants farm fungus. Ants also have an important role in the environment as 40 percent of plants in Northeastern U.S. are dispersed by ants.

However, ants' ability to farm does not stop in planting -- they have also domesticated animals. NPR notes that some ant species have the ability to herd wild aphids and milk honeydew from them by stroking their antenna.

CS Monitor notes that the relationship between ants and plants are not yet clear but compared to humans, who have just begun sowing and farming 12,000 years ago, ants clearly had a head start.

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