circular dance of ants

The photograph below shows a pair of bloodroot blossoms, one of the first flowering plants we see at the beginning of morel season. It doesn’t look at all bloody, does it. The sap, however, is generally orange to bright red. It’s sometimes used by native artists as a dye. The sap is also somewhat poisonous; eating bloodroot probably wouldn’t kill you, but it would certainly make you vomit like a high school drunk.

What’s cool about bloodroot, though, is the way it’s disseminated. The flowers produce pollen, but no nectar–which means all those bees and flies that land on the blossoms foraging for nectar are getting scammed. They’re helping pollinate the plant, but they aren’t getting jack in return.

But what’s really cool is that the seeds of bloodroot are spread by ants. That’s right, ants. The seeds have a fleshy organ–an elaiosome–that ants fucking love. They take the bloodroot seeds to their nest, eat the elaiosomes off them, then chuck out the seeds with the other ant trash and nest debris. Ant trash turns out to be a terrific medium for germinating seeds.

The process of ants foraging seeds for their tasty elaiosomes, then getting rid of the useless seeds in ant trash middens is called myrmechory. It’s from the Greek term for ants (mýrmēks) and a circular form of Greek dancing called khoreíā. The ants don’t actually dance in circles, of course, though they probably could if they wanted to. Who’s going to stop them? The important thing, though, is myrmechory works. It’s great for the ants, who get a scrumptious treat, and for the bloodroot, which gets dispersed across a wider range.

Of course, bees and flies and other pollen-seeking winged foragers get completely fucked over, which probably adds to the enjoyment of the elaiosome-eating ants. I’m okay with that. I mean, bees get to fly, after all; they get a temporary pardon from gravity. Hard to blame ants for being a wee bit envious and taking some small pleasure out of seeing the winged bastards get stiffed.

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