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Bears & Ants

January 30, 2015

Bears’ fondness for six-legged snacks is shaping a mountain ecosystem.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Ant-eating bears. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bears love honey, of course, but according to Florida State University ecologist Josh Grinath, they’re also big ant-eaters.

JOSH GRINATH (Florida State University):

Black bears, about a third of their annual diet in Colorado is just ants.

HIRSHON:

In the journal Ecology Letters, he writes that in Colorado meadows, an important shrub called rabbitbrush is attacked by treehoppers – tiny insects that suck the plants’ sap and secrete a sweet substance called honeydew. Ants drink the honeydew and protect the treehoppers from predators.

GRINATH:

And I found out that the ants and the treehoppers take a real toll on the plants, that the plants grow less and reproduce less whenever there are these treehoppers on the plants that are being protected by the ants.

HIRSHON:

But where black bears control ant populations, the plants are able to bounce back. So, bears and their love of ants may have a profound effect on the entire ecosystem. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.