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Can insects spread plant seeds?
Question Date: 2014-03-12
Answer 1:

Yes, they can. Insects are better known as pollinators, but they can also move seeds. One of the best examples is the many species of ants that collect seeds for their own nests. Sometimes the ant and its cargo don’t make it all the way home, or the ant nest is wiped out before the ants eat it, so the seeds still get to sprout in new places. Some plants even produce seeds with special fatty coating or parts that ants like. The ants take the entire seed home, eat the “treat,” and bury the seeds. There’s a picture of an ant doing this at:

ecology and science

Why do you think the ants would invest in this special coating that the ants eat?

When I was looking for the picture, I found out that some Australian stick insects actually lay eggs that look like seeds. Ants take them back to the nest, eat the coating, and put the eggs in their trash pile. When the stick insects hatch, they look and act a lot like ants, so they don’t get eaten. Wow! Thanks for asking, or I wouldn’t have learned that.

If you are interested in interactions between plants and animals, you may want to study ecology, the relationships between living things.

Answer 2:

Yes, but only ants have been found to do so. Ants actually carry seeds back to their colony for food and can drop some along the way.

Answer 3:

Yes! Well, depending on the size of the seed - the seed has to be small enough for an insect to carry it, obviously. Ants are extremely important in carrying seeds around of many small-seeded plants (especially some grasses). There is a limit on how far ants can take a seed, however, which does mean that, to use an example from my research, a plant that has to disperse a hundred kilometers to reach the next mountain range cannot rely on ants to get that far; it has to rely on birds or bats (or wind, if the seeds are small enough, as they are in the case of orchids). However insects and ants in particular are hugely important for moving the seeds of grasses that live underneath the trees in forests in reaching patches of sunlight, and probably for other plants as well.

Answer 4:

Yes, insects such as ants and dung beetles can spread plant seeds!

Answer 5:

Good question. We often think of insects as having a negative impact on plants. In fact, insects can benefit plants in many ways, including pollination, eating other herbivorous insects and spreading plant seeds. The most common instance I can think of whereby insects spread seeds is with ants. This is called "Myrmecochory."


Plants will produce seeds with a reward attached to the seed. The ants collect these rewards and move the seed into a more protected area. This increases the chance of seed survival and dispersal away from the parent plant.

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