The idea of farming did not originate with humans, but with a completely different species: ants. In a research from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, it appears that millions of years ago, Fijian ants called Philidris nagasau knew how to sow seeds, fertilize them, and make sure they grew to become plants.
Guillane Chomicki and Susanne Renner closely observed Fijian ants in their domatia – a closed structure at the base of plant stems, where they live.
I first noticed the relationship when I saw dozens of these ant-filled plants clustered in the same trees,
Chomicki, a botanist, said.
He also said that the ants gather Squamellaria seeds, which they hide in the cracks of trees. They then fertilize the seeds with their own poop and harvest the seeds once the plants have grown, Nature World News reports. Squamellaria, which has a fungus-like appearance, forms lumpy protrusions from tree branches.
Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences said, “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.”
Another ant species, leaf-cutter ants, have been performing farm-like work for at least eight million years. But unlike their Fijian cousins, they farm fungus. When a colony gets too big, a female leaf-cutter ant will carry a “starter” of fungus to the new site. The ants then cut leaves and help the fungus grow to sustain the new colony.
In addition, some ants also have domesticated animals, as they are able to herd wild aphids and milk honeydew from them by simply stroking their antenna. Another ant species farms mealybugs – bugs that live on tree roots – and eat their honeydew.
In comparison, human farmers are said to have begun farming in the Fertile Crescent only 12,000 years ago – a far cry from the head start the self-sustaining ants made.