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Bears & Ants

January 30, 2015

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



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.


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.


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.


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.