Africa is a wonderful place to visit to observe fascinating species interactions. Whether it be lions on the hunt for a wildebeest or hyenas on the hunt for lions, the large animals of Africa give us action-packed insight into predation. But what about the smaller animals? Often overlooked for their perceived annoyance, ants have some pretty interesting relationships as well. The African landscape is covered in Acacia Trees, but one species, in particular, is beloved by ants: The Whistling Thorn Acacia(Vachellia drepanolobium) native to East Africa. This tree protects itself with thorns that are home to four species of stinging ants. These ants pierce small holes into the thorns. Once abandoned, these thorns turn into flutes in the wind. This is what gave the Whistling Thorn its name. The question is: Why are the ants living there in the first place? 

Domatia with myrmecophilie ants
Acacia drepanolobium By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada – Acacia drepanolobium– Whistling Thorn, CC BY 2.0,

It is still unclear whether the ants hinder or help the trees. The ants have shown to swarm when the tree is attacked to ward off herbivores. It is thought that giraffes can detect the ants and know to leave that particular tree alone! However, some species of ants prune the tree. This disrupts the tree’s reproductive process. So once again we ask: who benefits here, the tree or the ants? In nature, the answer is never so simple. I encourage you to think about this yourself; do you think the ants are helping and hindering?

Southern Circuit