First it was bees, not it turns out that the world's largest land animal - the African elephant, may be afraid of an even smaller insect - the tiny ant!
The startling discovery was made by researchers accidently, while examining the eco-system in the East African Savanna. Professor Todd Palmer from the University of Florida and his colleagues noticed that while the hungry animals devoured most trees, they kept their distance from one species of Acacia, the Acacia drepanolobium. Upon closer examination, the scientists discovered that the trees were swarming with armies of ants!
To test if ants were the deterrent, the team conducted a number of different experiments. They stripped some of the trees off their ants, and lo and behold, the elephants went ahead and started munching on them. Still not completely convinced they placed some swarms onto the mammal's most favorite tree, another species of Acacia, the A. Mellifera and, sure enough, the elephants kept away from them.
The scientists believe that the elephants are afraid of ants for the same reason they are afraid of bees - They do not like getting swarms of them inside their trunks, which are highly sensitive and full of nerve endings. Hence, whenever they get a whiff of these pesky creatures, they just keep their distance.
They are now hoping to use this research to preserve the trees and crops in the region. Due to their large appetites the elephants munch their way through entire forests reducing them to grasslands and, altering the area's ecosystem. The mammals are also notorious for eating through farms.
The scientists hope that introducing ant odor near the farms and trees will help protect both, thereby reducing the constant conflicts between the residents and the mighty mammals.
Sources: telegraph.co.uk, news.bbc.co.uk