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Picture of the Month

Ant Tending an Aphid Colony

This is a picture of an ant tending a colony of aphids. Specifically, the ant is in the process of identifying a diseased aphid that has been infected with a pathogenic fungus and added to the colony by an Entomological researcher. In the sequence of pictures below, the ant recognizes the aphid as diseased, grasps it with it's mandibles, and discards the aphid from the colony. In this way the ant is protecting the aphids from becoming infected with the fungus.


To take these pictures I used a Nikon D2X camera with 105mm Micro Nikkor lens and an SB-800 Speedlight attached to the camera with a remote cable. The researcher and I crouched in a field between a large ant hill and the milkweed plant containing the aphid colony. When the researcher placed the infected aphid onto the milkweed plant, the ant immediately raced to it and discarded it. The whole process took just a few seconds. The continuous shooting mode of the camera and fast recycling time of the speedlight were crucial in obtaining these photos. During the hour it took to set up and take the images, hundreds of ants crawled over us moving between the ant hill and milkweed plants. This was distracting and creepy to say the least but the results were worth it.

Kent Loeffler, Cornell University
© Cornell University, Dept. of Plant Pathology, 2004