Deep in the Peruvian rainforest plants share a special symbiotic relationship with ants.
Melastomataceae is a species of herbaceous plants and small trees found in tropical areas.
Some species (genus Maieta) have distinctive hollow swellings at the base of each leaf that are covered with thick white hairs.
The bases of the plant develop saclike outgrowths that serve as shelters for ants, which enter them through two small holes on the lower surface.
The ants protect the leaves from herbivores such as caterpillars, which they kill or drive away.
The plant in this video is the Fancy-leaved Tococa (Tococa guianensis)
Myrmecophyte (mər′mek•ə‚fīt; literally “ant-plant”) is a plant that lives in a mutualistic association with a colony of ants. There are over 100 different genera of myrmecophytes. These plants possess structural adaptations that provide ants with food and/or shelter. These specialized structures include domatia, food bodies, and extrafloral nectaries. In exchange for food and shelter, ants aid the myrmecophyte in pollination, seed dispersal, gathering of essential nutrients, and/or defense.
Structural Adaptations of Myrmecophytes
Domatia (singular: domatium, from the Latin "domus", meaning home) are tiny chambers produced by plants that house arthropods.
Domatia are internal plant structures that appear to be specifically adapted for habitation by ants. These cavities are found primarily in the stems, leaves, and spines of plants. Many different genera of plants offer domatia. Plants of the Acacia genus have some of the most widely recognized forms of domatia and offer some of the best examples of ant-plant obligate mutualism.
Domatia occupied by ants are called myrmecodomatia.
An important class of myrmecodomatia comprise large, hollow spines of certain acacias such as Acacia sphaerocephala, in which ants of the genera Pseudomyrmex and Tetraponera make their nests. Plants that provide myrmecodomatia are called myrmecophytes.
The variety of the plants that provide myrmecodomatia, and the ranges of forms of such domatia are considerable. Some plants, such as Myrmecodia, grow large bulbous structures riddled with channels in which their ants may establish themselves, both for mutual protection and for the nutritive benefit of the ants' wastes.
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