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Ant-keeping:

 1 kassyopeia, Sun, 7th Oct '12 10:28:14 AM from terrae nullius

So, I now have these "ynebriar" plants which live in symbiosis with insects called "ynets" (rhymes with "dine-ts"). The plant is a thorny shrub which produces big blue berries. The insects are ants, except also bigger and blue.

The symbiosis consists in that that ynets kill anything small that might threaten the plant, like caterpillars. The thorns take care of most bigger animals. In return, they get to harvest the ripe berries. Periodically, wildfires kill the plant, but some of the ants survive in their underground hives, and some of the seeds they've carried into those along with the fruits are activated by the heat, so that soon a new shrub grows right out of the ynets' nest. Which of course benefits both species.

So far, so good, but this is supposed to be an agricultural plant, i.e. my humanoids have to somehow be able to harvest the majority of those berries in spite of the twofold defenses. How would they go about that? Bee-keepers use, or used to use, smoke to sedate bees. Would that work on ants? Does it maybe make more sense to wait for the ants to stockpile all of the berries in their nests, and then dig those up and take most of the pile away? Saves one having to deal with the thorns, at any rate... Ideas, please.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 2 Another Duck, Sun, 7th Oct '12 10:54:25 AM from Stockholm Relationship Status: Chocolate!
No, the other one.
If the humanoids create the hives the ynets live in (like human-made beehives), getting the berries would be a lot easier, and it makes sense. That also gives the humanoids better control over the ynet population.

Do the ynets spread the seeds by harvesting the ynebriars? That seems kind of necessary for a good symbiosis. It could work if the ynets actually plant the seeds deliberately, to give them access to more berries. Also, how many plants does one hive take care of?

I do think the wildfires would have to be very periodical for it to work out, though. It's one thing to benefit from them, but it's a little odd to actually rely on them.

edited 7th Oct '12 10:56:28 AM by AnotherDuck

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Maybe the ants have a hibernation phase during which humans can harvest the plants? They protect the plant during the growing season, then stock up for the winter, then humans glean what they leave behind. I'm not sure if that works with the seasonal system you have in mind, though.

 4 kassyopeia, Sun, 7th Oct '12 11:57:11 AM from terrae nullius

Man-made hives make a whole lot of sense. [awesome]

Could those be above ground, like beehives, or do ants need to live at least partly underground for some reason? I know that termite nests have a very intricate climate control system, without which they couldn't survive, I expect. So, their nests probably need to be just where they are. Ant-nests are a lot less elaborate and might be a different story, though.

I figured the role of the ynets would be more one of tending and perpetuating the plants locally, and that dispersal would be done by something like a hummingbird. The defenses would be largely ineffective in that case, and at the same time they'd never make a serious dent into the ant's share of the harvest. Possibly, the ants could even "know" not to attack those, for those very reasons. I don't really see a plausible way for the ynets to fill that role, and unlike what you suggest I don't think that it's necessary for the symbiotic partners to rely on each other in all things to qualify as such.

Not sure yet about the ratios. Each steading has a briarpatch of several acres, or on the order of 10, 000 square metres. Its secondary function is to serve as a hedge enclosing the village and its fields, so it's grown as an (almost) contiguous ring with a radius of ~500 metres and a width of a few metres. Which, I'm now realizing, constitutes an even more compelling reason for letting the ynets do the harvesting; it'd be bloody difficult for a person to get at those which don't grow very near the inner or outer edges. To get back to the point, that ring could consist of on the order or a thousand big plants with a diameter of several metres, or of a lot more with a smaller diameter.

I don't think ynets can effectively exploit a food source that's much more than a hundred metres away from the nest. Beyond that, we're talking hours rather than minutes for a round-trip, which doesn't sound plausible to me. Thus, for the ~3, 000 metres of ring we need at least ten nests, and perhaps as many as a hundred. A typical steading has 36 peasants, which falls right in the middle of that range, and one hive per peasant makes things nice and tidy. That would mean each hive controls a few dozen plants spread over a few hundred square metres. Sound good?

The wildfires are very periodical, as they are caused by an astronomical phenomenon that recurs exactly every six years. No problem there.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 5 kassyopeia, Sun, 7th Oct '12 12:05:05 PM from terrae nullius

[up][up] That's a good idea, too. As I said in the other thread, I was going to have them sun-dry the yneberries into "drynes" in order to turn those into "wyne", and that doesn't really work in winter (especially in my case, in which winter sunlight really is nowhere near as strong as summer sunlight, due to the eccentric orbit). But perhaps they could abstract the berries in "March" when it's still cold and then store them themselves for a bit longer, to do the sun-drying beginning in "May". That's really only a few days, so shouldn't be a problem. And, anyway, aging is a vital part of winemaking, so why shouldn't it be equally vital to wynemaking! smile

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
I think ants live in a variety of habitats. There's the ant tree, that was the genesis of this idea, and I've seen documentaries showing species of ants wherein an entire colony lives in a single acorn. I'm sure a species that can survive in an above-ground habitat is plausible.

So if I understand your modification to my suggestion, the humans harvest the first berries before the ynts come out of hibernation, rather than the last ones after they go in?

 7 kassyopeia, Sun, 7th Oct '12 12:56:47 PM from terrae nullius

[up] No, sorry, I got mixed up a bit when replying to your post. My take on your suggestion is that the berries ripen during the summer, the ynets harvest everything in late summer, and half a year later when the ground is at its coldest and thus the insects at their most sluggish the Altlings open up the natural or artificial hive and take most the berries away. Then comes a bit more storage until early summer of the following year, sun-drying, and whatever other steps wynemaking involves. By the time it's ready, the next crop is already ripening on the briars.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
I see. I was thinking the Altlings would just harvest the berries the ynts leave behind. Your idea is more analogous to bee-keeping though.

These ynts must be pretty huge if they can maneuver whole berries into their colonies. I hope they don't bite too much. :P

 9 kassyopeia, Sun, 7th Oct '12 4:07:04 PM from terrae nullius

Yeah, I've been trying to work out their sizes, but for once wikipedia isn't co-operating. Everyone knows that "ants are really strong for their size", but trying to get something more specific than that is a lot tougher than I expected. This relatively small species is supposedly able to hold up a weight of 8 grammes (exactly one of my berryweights, as it happens), but that's not the same as carrying it.

Based on some google results, a better value might be between 10 and 100 times their body weight, which means a body weight of several hundred milligrammes. The 3 mm ant from the article weighs several milligrammes; scaling that up by a hundred suggests a minimum size of maybe 2 cm, which is still completely reasonable for terrestrial ants.

That being said, the real minimum size may instead have to do with having mandibles big enough to actually get a grip on a round berry, rather than issues of weight. The berries are at least 2 cm across themselves, so the ynets would have to be quite a bit bigger than that for their mandibles to not be completely disproportionate. Maybe they could carry them in pairs, or something, to get around that, though. Blah.

ps: I did find one mention of something real quite like this along the way, as it happens:

Early researchers drew upon the ecological and management knowledge of indigenous communities in developing their cultivation strategies. For example, one industry representative reported that Dr. le Fras Nortier  the first researcher to work on rooibos cultivation  made his early commercial plantings with seed collected by indigenous peoples from antheaps. The seed was extremely difficult to collect at first, because each legume pod contains only one fruit, which is projected out immediately upon being ripe. Knowledge that ants collected the seeds allowed researchers to collect seed for planting. Some within the industry argue that the difficulty of locating seed and the importance of the local ant population are reasons why rooibos has never been cultivated outside of South Africa.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 10 Topazan, Sun, 7th Oct '12 4:44:18 PM from San Diego
You mentioned in the OP that the berries were big, so I was assuming at least blueberry size. 2cm diameter sounds better for the ants, but problematic for the humans to juice them. As for the ants, in addition to being able to carry the berries long distances, they'll need to be able to fit them through their tunnels.

I'm having trouble getting my head around the idea of people raiding ant nests for food in the first place. Aren't ant stockpiles usually tiny and cut-up? I still think it would be easier for the Altlings to harvest straight from the plant. Or even eat the ants, except I don't think you can make wine from ants.

What if you make them kind of a cross between ants and bees? Closer to bees in size and hive population, and they produce and store a blue nectar that people can harvest? The difference is that they don't fly.

edited 7th Oct '12 4:46:33 PM by Topazan

 11 Loni Jay, Sun, 7th Oct '12 5:53:01 PM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
But if the ynets usually eat the berries, and the people harvest the berries, what will the ynets eat? Do the people feed them something else, or is it a specially bred sort of plant that makes a lot more fruit than the wild varieties?

Regarding carrying, what if the berries have a stalk or something that they can be dragged by?

edited 7th Oct '12 5:54:13 PM by LoniJay

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 12 m8e, Mon, 8th Oct '12 12:55:25 AM from Sweden Relationship Status: Wanna dance with somebody
It's not impossible that both the ants and the bushes have been bred(intentionally or not) to produce/collect more berries. Just like we did with bees and some plants. ie the ants collects more berries than they need and humans only take the surplus. The humans might even try to protect the bushes and ant colonies from those wild fires by making Firebreaks, removing any other plants in the area, growing the bushes in a monoculture etc. Growing the bushes in a monoculture could be enough to explain the ants berry surplus.

oh, and those berries that the ants do eat leaves seeds that the ants then have to move to their scrap piles/graveyards a few meters from the colonies. The humans might then move these bushes to create these monocultures.

Normaly there might just be a ring of these bushes around each colony and then ants have to collect other foods outside of this ring. But because of humans these rings have been expanded to fill the colonies whole territory.

 13 Blurring, Mon, 8th Oct '12 2:11:38 AM from Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Just caped
The humans could further help by protecting the ynets from any other creatures that try to take the berries or want to kill the ynets itself. Also, by modifying terrains like irrigating dry areas or draining wet areas so that it will be more suitable to ynebriar. Growing them in areas that ynebriar cannot exist naturally. Then the humans can start selective breeding of both organisms.

edited 8th Oct '12 2:12:30 AM by Blurring

Those bigfoots think they are better than us by being so hard to find so raise a ruckus at their favourite places, that will teach them.
 14 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 2:39:40 AM from terrae nullius

4[up] "Strawberry-sized" is the closest I can come up with, as unhelpful as that is because those aren't round. Why would bigger berries be more problematic to juice? Anyway, remember than wyne is now made from drynes, which are as much smaller than fresh yneberries as raisins are smaller than grapes. Juicing the fresh ones would probably not be done large-scale at all, but more akin to squeezing fresh orange juice for a feastday dawn meal (weekend breakfast). smile

I had a new idea in the meantime, which is that the ants just wait for the berries to drop of their own accord and then roll them into their nest. Imagining an ant trail along which things are rolled rather than carried certainly makes for an awesome mental visual - almost like the natural version of wheeled vehicles on a road! The only problem I see with this is that normal berries would bruise or even slip open when hitting the ground, which would make it implausible for them to be stored for extended periods of time. This could in turn be solved by assuming that these are tougher, or (and I quite like this one, too) that the ants preventatively cover the ground underneath the briars with a layer of soft material. Something fibrous would be perfect.

Also, this means that we have to abandon the idea of building them artificial hives above-ground, as there's be no way to roll berries into those (well, there could be ramps, but that's pushing it). Some of the figures mentioned in the articles I skimmed yesterday actually made me think that that was implausible because of something else in any case: A colony of sufficient size to hold an area of the size I suggested above might number in the millions, which at the suggested weigh means it would weigh the better part of a ton. That's rather a big structure to build, especially for my diminutive Altlings who only weigh around 10 kg themselves.

Further, the fact that berries that large wouldn't fit through ordinary ant tunnels would actually work in this scheme's favour: There would have to be special entrances to special storage chambers, and that makes them much easier to identify for the humanoids when "harvest time" comes.

I agree that it's a little hard to imagine this, but I don't see any hard reasons against it. It works with bees and honey, so clearly it can work in principle. The berry-harvest as described would be a lot more efficient than what bees do, and there is no processing step involved, which should make it at least as plausible as that counterpart, really. And while it's easy to forget, ynets aren't really ants, they just "look and walk and quack" like ants. In other words, real ants don't have to be able to actually pull something like this off.

I did already briefly think about having them harvest some honey-like ant product or the ants themselves instead (especially because of this), but on the whole I think I like the original idea better.

edited 8th Oct '12 2:40:11 AM by kassyopeia

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 15 Blurring, Mon, 8th Oct '12 2:56:18 AM from Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Just caped
If I'm not mistaken, healthy cranberries bounce, bad ones go splat.
Those bigfoots think they are better than us by being so hard to find so raise a ruckus at their favourite places, that will teach them.
 16 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 2:59:02 AM from terrae nullius

5[up]

But if the ynets usually eat the berries, and the people harvest the berries, what will the ynets eat? Do the people feed them something else, or is it a specially bred sort of plant that makes a lot more fruit than the wild varieties?

The latter, I was thinking. It is an agricultural plant, after all, so it may well have been bred to the point of yielding a lot more than the natural variety. The Altlings wouldn't take all of the berries, of course, and due to their taking them half a year after the ants have done the harvesting, the ants would in turn already have eaten half their required share anyway. Also, deliberately choosing to leave more or fewer berries behind than usual would work as a way of controlling the size of the ynet colony, which would be a good thing from an agricultural point of view - though a bit callous, I suppose.

4[up]

The humans might even try to protect the bushes and ant colonies from those wild fires by making Firebreaks [...]

Theoretically, yes, actually, no. The wildfires are part of the natural order of things. Preventing them from consuming anything other than the steading itself would be considered sacrilegious. Also, ash is a superb fertilizer, so the periodic burning down of the fields would have become part of their system of keeping the soil rich in nutrients.

oh, and those berries that the ants do eat leaves seeds that the ants then have to move to their scrap piles/graveyards a few meters from the colonies. The humans might then move these bushes to create these monocultures.

Normaly there might just be a ring of these bushes around each colony and then ants have to collect other foods outside of this ring. But because of humans these rings have been expanded to fill the colonies whole territory.

I quite like the image of the new scrubs growing directly out of the ynets' underground storage chambers. Rather than using external "scrap piles", they could use those chambers for that purpose altogether when there aren't any berries left in them, and build new ones for the next harvest. Then again, your idea of a ring of briars around the nest beautifully matches the way the Altlings grow those briars in a hedge around their steadings, which makes for a lovely parallel. I'm going to have to think about that. smile

3[up]

What sort of predators were you thinking of? Anteaters and the like, I suppose? I'd think the biggest threats to ants would actually be insects, especially other ants, and I have a hard time imagining how humans could be of much help in that respect. Like, what's a bee-keeper to do when a swarm of hornets attacks a bee-hive? I agree on all the other points, though.

edited 8th Oct '12 3:00:34 AM by kassyopeia

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 17 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 3:01:54 AM from terrae nullius

[up][up] Ah, nice, thanks! We don't have cranberries here, and I had not heard that or anything like it before. Is this something that's generally known to British and/or American readers, do you think?

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 18 Blurring, Mon, 8th Oct '12 3:04:45 AM from Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Just caped
Humans will try to kill the hornets.

[up]Not so sure about that.

edited 8th Oct '12 3:08:16 AM by Blurring

Those bigfoots think they are better than us by being so hard to find so raise a ruckus at their favourite places, that will teach them.
 19 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 3:16:07 AM from terrae nullius

Yeah, but as far as I know they've usually failed at doing so, in the past. That's why the standard solution to that problem, if it becomes endemic, is to switch to a different bee species!

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 20 Another Duck, Mon, 8th Oct '12 4:05:04 AM from Stockholm Relationship Status: Chocolate!
No, the other one.
With regard to size and strength, ants aren't actually stronger than humans relative to size, once you factor in the Square/Cube Law. However, as you mentioned, the practicality of actually carrying the berries is a bigger concern. One thing you can take into account, though, is that they may just be specialised enough that the workers have mandibles especially shaped to carry those berries. That in itself can also make for some interesting and alien designs.
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 21 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 4:31:24 AM from terrae nullius

I've read somewhere that ants are actually a fair bit weaker than humans, when that's taken into account, because insectoid muscle tissue delivers nowhere near the performance of the mammalian kind.

Which makes the horse-sized ants beloved of creature horror movies even more implausible than they are just on account of square-cubing (allometry) and the sheer weight of that exoskeleton. No matter, though. smile

Not a bad idea about "purpose-built" mandibles. Ynets could be my world's stag beetles, in a manner of speaking. But I still like the scarab parallel better, I'm afraid.

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 22 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 4:54:44 AM from terrae nullius

[up] ... and I'm reconsidering once more. Rather than the fairly boring version of ynets I've had in mind originally, maybe I should just give in and throw in as much weird morphology as has been suggested, as we can come up with, and as I can find. The caste-structured society emerging from that latter approach might be pretty awesome:

- The workers would have the sort of disproportionate mandibles suggested above.
- The "larders" would be the honeypot ants mentioned at the end of post #14, and are what the Altlings harvest and make wyne from (somehow).
- The warriors could be exploding ants.
- The virgin queens and drones could have some bodily adaptation that allows/requires them to take along at least one yneseed on their nuptial flight, thus dispersing the briars.

I'm torn. Anybody have strong opinions either way, please do make your case. smile

edited 8th Oct '12 4:55:42 AM by kassyopeia

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 23 kassyopeia, Mon, 8th Oct '12 3:46:09 PM from terrae nullius

Heh:

Winged [female and male leafcutter ants] leave their respective nests en masse and engage in a nuptial flight known as the revoada. Each female mates with multiple males to collect the 300 million sperm she needs to set up a colony.

Once on the ground, the female loses her wings and searches for a suitable underground lair in which to found her colony. The success rate of these young queens is very low, and only 2.5% will go on to establish a long-lived colony. To start her own fungus garden, the queen stores bits of the parental fungus garden mycelium in her infrabuccal pocket, which is located within her oral cavity.

Which is exactly the sort of thing I suggested in the last bullet point above. Nature never ceases to amaze, does it! cool

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
 24 Noaqiyeum, Mon, 8th Oct '12 4:27:01 PM from Ockham Asylum Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
I'm not so fond of the extensive caste system - everyone focuses on hive castes when trying to make unique ecology, really, so it would set yours apart more if you don't (especially since you already have hive mammals :P ) - but I kind of like the idea of harvesting the larder ants (repletes) rather than the berries themselves - it means the ants actually have an important role in the process, so the altings can't just (a) harvest the berries themselves or (b) steal the berries as the ynts carry them back to the nest. It also provides more of an explanation to how the ynjuice is preserved - fruit rot, and I don't think ants usually store them, for that reason.

...! This might help the 'carrying the berries to the hive' problem, too - the ynts don't carry them, they just juice them on the vine or on the ground when they ripen and carry the liquid back to the repletes. (That could make the ynthills easier to access if they don't have to be below-ground, since repletes are usually sequestered deep inside specifically so other predators can't get to them.)

Then again, repletes need not be a distinct caste - the article above seems to imply that in some species they are just worker ants doing the particular job of storage rather than collection.

edited 8th Oct '12 4:28:24 PM by Noaqiyeum

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 25 kassyopeia, Tue, 9th Oct '12 1:03:46 PM from terrae nullius

Okay, I think I've got this figured out, mostly along the lines of [up] (thanks).

As worked out here, and using the figure of a total of 36 hives as assumed above, a hive tending an area of 10 by 100 metres might weigh up to 10 kg, rather than the figure suspected above. Which gets a bonus point as that is also the weight of an Altling, thus illustrating the somewhat famous claim that "the biomass of all ants on Earth is about equal to that of all humans on Earth."

The weight of the berry harvest from that area, on the other hand, is two orders of magnitude larger. Thus, to store most of it in honeypot ynets, those would have to be able to store something like 100 times their own bodyweight. Which sounds like a lot, but requires "only" a distension of their abdomens by a factor of 5 or so in each dimension, and is actually no or only a little more than what real honeypot ants do, I think.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I think the most streamlined form of harvesting would now be this: The workers divide into two teams, "reapers" and "larders". The reapers ascend into the briars and start snipping off the berries, which fall down and, as I feared, split open as they hit the ground. Each of the waiting larders then simply drinks the liquid contents of one of the berries (matched numbers). When the harvest is done, the reapers simply roll the larders, which can no longer walk on their own, back into the nest. And that's that.

Which still leaves the original question - how do the Altlings get at the larders? But I think relying on dormancy due to cold temperatures, as suggested, should make that feasible, and it occurred to me that the myrrhatels (domesticated mustelids), which are prodigious diggers and, as of now, have an equally prodigious sense of smell, might help a lot with the locating and digging.

Comments?

edited 9th Oct '12 1:05:23 PM by kassyopeia

Soon the Cold One took flight, yielded Goddess and field to the victor: The Lord of the Light.
Total posts: 26
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