They belong to the bark beetle family, and they are the only animals in nature, along with leaf-cutter ants and some termites, that practice agriculture: ambrosia beetles. These insects, which are about two millimetres in size, carry fungal spores into their nests and sow them in specially created tunnels in the wood. They then care for the growing fungal cultures that serve as food for them.
Like farmers, the beetles also have to defend their fungal cultures against pests, such as other fungi that threaten to overgrow the gardens. Individually living beetles could hardly manage this work. This is why ambrosia beetles have developed sophisticated social systems over the course of evolution, similar to those of bees and other social insects. “This is unique in beetles,” says Würzburg biologist Peter Biedermann.
Biedermann is fascinated by ambrosia beetles. He studied them at the Biocentre of Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany.