Ant House Plant

Myrmecodia beccarii. This species has a fascinating symbiotic relationship in the wild between the host plant, the Golden Ant and the Apollo Jewel Butterfly.

I have been to Australia several times and one trip in 2013 was specifically to see these fascinating plants growing wild in the Mangrove and Melaleuca swamps in Cairns, Queensland.

Anthouse plants are bulbous epiphytes that are part of a mutual symbiotic relationship between ants and the Apollo Jewel Butterfly.
The stem of the plant or caudex is swollen and within it are chambers that look very much like a network of tunnels which do closely resemble an ant nest.

There is one species of butterfly, the Apollo Jewel Butterfly that will only lay its eggs on this plant. When the eggs hatch out into larvae, these burrow in the cuadex to feed on the inner plant tissue. They create more tunnels and chambers which the ants make use of. These chambers offer a safe haven from birds and predators although it is usual for only one or two larvae to survive and live in the cuadex. From larva excretion, the ants get food, from the plant the ants get a home and in return the plant gets nutrients from both the ant and larva droppings. Upon maturity the larva will pupate in the caudex and eventually through the process of metamorphosis the butterfly emerges through the exit holes and flies away. This is a three way symbiotic relationship that illustrates nature at its best.

The plant does flower (small white ones) as shown on the attached images but as you can see the flowers are extremely small, whereas the fruiting body is slightly larger. This fruiting body that contains a seed is eaten and carried off by the Mistletoe Bird and once the seed has passed through the bird’s digestive system and expelled into the wild Australian habitat, a new Ant Plant will grow.

I am pleased to have this plant in my collection of tropical plants.

Ant house flowers

Anthouse flowers

Myrmecodia beccarii

An Anthouse plant from my own collection

Anthouse plant - Cairns, Jan' 2016

Anthouse plant – Cairns, Jan’ 2016