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Do Ants Pollinate? Ants Influence on Flower Pollination

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Ants do pollinate flowers at times, but they’re not important as pollinators. They don’t have the same impact on floral pollination as bees.

Ants do, however, have a lot of indirect effects on flower pollination. 

For example, ants can affect the amount and type of pollen that is available to other insects through their foraging behavior. 

If you want to learn more about how ants influence floral pollination, keep reading!

Do Ants Pollinate?

Ants do pollinate flowers, but they’re not as effective as bees. Ants still play a role in the process though. Many types of ants live and forage on plants, so their activities help promote plant growth by moving nutrients around within the ecosystem.

many ant workers in a flower

Ant also protects many plants and flowers from herbivores such as caterpillars or beetles that eat leaves and other plant parts.

When it comes to pollination, they’re not an important part of the process – ants’ natural behavior hinders them when it comes to spreading pollen.

During scarce food periods such as dry seasons or winter months when there is less nectar available for honeybees, ants are the only other animal pollinators available to help out.

What Is Pollination?

Pollination is when pollen gets transferred from the male part of a flower (stamen) to the female part (pistil). This process leads to fertilization and helps plants reproduce. [1]

Pollination is a critical ecosystem process that allows plants to reproduce. There are many different types of pollinators, including birds, bees, and ants

Ants do play an important role in certain ecosystems, including pollination. While they do help a little, it’s not a lot. Ants can have a big influence on flower pollination in certain ecosystems when bees are scarce or absent though.

bees flying together around the flower

How Do Ants Pollinate?

Ants are attracted to sugars and will visit flowers that are rich in sugar nectar. When ants go to pick up the nectar, they can pick up some pollen too.

They do this by accidentally picking up pollen on their bodies and then brushing it onto the next flower they visit. 

Ants don’t provide efficient pollination services but do increase plant-pollinator networks.

ant helps in pollination

Are Ants Important as Pollinators?

In most ecosystems, ants are not important when it comes to pollination. In fact, ants are a poor choice for pollinators because of their natural behavior and biological mechanisms. 

Ants secrete antibiotics on their bodies that prevent pollen from adhering to them, and they clean themselves frequently, removing the pollen. 

Ants do however have an indirect influence by transporting seeds away from flower sites which can result in increased seed production.

Ants do not have a very positive influence on pollination, but their presence can still be beneficial for seed dispersal. As a result, ants can be considered indirect pollinators.

Why Are Ants Inefficient at Pollination?

There are a few different reasons why ants are inefficient as pollinators:

  • They secrete antibiotics that hinder pollination.
  • Ants are clean creatures – they clean themselves regularly, removing pollen from their bodies.
  • Ants are very small, which limits the amount of pollen they can carry.

You can read more about these reasons underneath.

Ants Secrete Antibiotics That Hinder Pollination

A natural biological mechanism ants possess is the ability to secrete antibiotics to keep contamination and diseases away. 

The antibiotic secretions on the ants’ bodies make it difficult for pollen to stick to them, which means that they are unable or unlikely to carry pollen from one flower of a species into another. [2]

ant-thorax-and-abdomen

Ants Clean Themselves Often, Removing Pollen

Ants are incredibly good at keeping themselves and their nest clean. They regularly clean themselves and their nest, in order to avoid contamination or diseases from spreading.

When ants notice anything stuck to their body, they will most often get rid of it. This includes pollen.

Ants Are Too Small to Pollinate Flowers

As you know, ants are very small. Because of their small size, less pollen is able to stick to them. On the off-chance that an ant won’t remove the pollen stuck to its body, there won’t be much to carry off anyways.

More about ant size: How tall are ants?

Ants are strong in numbers though, so if ants were to not clean themselves, and if an entire colony got pollen stuck all over them, they could work as efficient pollinators – but this is not the case.

alone black ant on plant leaves

Characteristics of Ant Flowers

While most ants aren’t very good at pollination, they do still contribute a little but. This has caused some plants to develop traits to lure more ants to them. 

The characteristics of ant flowers include:

  • Low growing plants
  • Small inconspicuous flowers
  • Flowers that are close to the stem
  • Increased production of nectar

Some Flowers Produce Nectar (Plant Secretion)

Ants like sugar substances, including nectar secreted by plants and flowers. These flowers will attract more ants, as the little bugs are constantly looking for food.

As they feed on the nectar, they may pick up some pollen as well.

ants with nectar on red petals

How Ants Otherwise Help Plants

Other than small amounts of pollination, ants do help plants in other ways. 

Ants can be effective predators of insects who might otherwise devour young shoots and leaves. 

Also, ants carry seeds while heading to their nests where they can sprout successfully due to ideal soil conditions created by these industrious creatures.

Also read: The importance of ants: What are they good for

Seed Dispersal

It is a very common process, and one of the most important in ecology. Seed dispersal helps plants grow in different places.

Plant seed will get stuck on the ants, being carried back to the nest (or dropped along the way), helping the plants grow in different places. [3]

ants on f;lowers

Protection

Ant colonies will protect flowers from certain species of herbivores such as aphids that feed on the plants themselves.

Aphids are generally considered pests because they feed on plant sap which can harm or kill seedlings, young leaves, and flowers. 

Ants like aphids because they secrete a sticky substance called honeydew, and can even keep them as “cattle” to feed off of the sugary substance.

ants and aphids

Thanks to the relationship between flowers and ants, these plants do not have to worry about being eaten by insects such as aphids.

Peonies and ants have a special relationship. Peonies feed the ants with nectar, and in return, the ants protect the flowers from plant-eating insects.

Conclusion

Ants do not efficiently pollinate flowers. This is because of natural mechanisms and behavior that removes pollen from the ants before they can pass it on to other flowers.

Aside from pollination, ants help out plants with seed dispersal and protection. Seeds will get stuck to ants and will get dropped either at the nest or on the way to the nest.

When ants feed on nectar from plants, they will keep away any herbivore insects that are looking to eat the plants. This helps the plants stay alive longer, indirectly affecting pollination and seed dispersal further.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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