Imagine you’re walking through the Amazon rainforest,
the forest which is home to a larger collection of
living plants and animal species
than any other terrestrial ecosystem.
About ten percent of all-known species live here,
and about half of the world’s species
live in all the rainforests combined.
With this unparalleled diversity,
walking through this forest would be a true adventure.
Every step you take would review
new species of plants and animals that you have never seen before.
Every new patch of forest would look totally different than the one before.
Until all of a sudden, something changes.
The diversity that reigned supreme till this point,
has suddenly gone with no clear indication why.
Instead, what you now find is an area of the forest
that is dominated entirely by a single species of tree.
You just step into the devil’s garden.
But what cause this regularity in such a chaotic environment?
It suddenly looks out of place here,
almost plant, maybe even man-made.
Long before, a new scientist stumbled across
these mysterious parts of the rainforest that
you can find all over the Amazon basin.
Native tribes already knew about them,
and held their very own explanation for them.
They believe that these gangs are cultivated,
and inhabited by an evil forest spirit,
a demon called Chullachaki.
They’re shape shifter that tries to lure people
off the main parts and deep into the jungle,
until they eventually become lost.
In his natural state,
which described as an ugly short goblin-like creature,
easily recognizable by his deformed foot.
The name Chullachaki literally means
single or uneven foot,
because he is said to have one smaller foot
that is either twisted backwards,
or shaped like a hoof.
To trick people and to following him,
he can transform himself into whatever person or animal he wishes.
This could be a family member or a friend,
sometimes an old man or a child,
or even potential prey like a deer.
Once his victims have stopped and following him,
he will lead them deeper and deeper into the forest,
never to be seen again.
In recent times, however,
there has been a transformation of the legend of the Chullachaki.
With continuous illegal login,
and large scale deforestation threatening the Amazon rainforest,
the Chullachaki has become more of a guardian of the jungle,
and the eyes of the locals, a protecter of the forest
that only harms those who wish to destroy it.
But what is actually going on in the devil’s garden?
That’s what a team from the Stanford University
tried to find out in 2005.
And what they found was maybe not as frightening,
but not less interesting.
The species of tree that makes up
these gangs is a very special kind of tree,
the so-called Myrmecophyte,
so a plant that shares a mutualistic relationship with ants.
These trees produce swellings along the stem of each leaf,
in them hollow chambers that give lemon ants room for their nests.
In turn, the workers defend the tree against herbivores.
like leaf-cutter ants or other plant-eating insects.
But that mutualism doesn’t end here.
In addiction, they also search the surrounding forest floor
for siblings of competing plants.
If they encounter one, countless workers will start taking it,
biting the stem and the leaves of the plant,
and then jetting a poison called formic acid.
This toxin, common and
many ant species are normally used for communication,
causes the seedling to die within the next 24 hours,
which makes this the first case
where ants are using the formic acid as herbicide
to poison unwanted plants.
By killing all other plants in the vicinity of the nest,
the ants promote the growth and establishment of more of their host plants,
which gives the ant colony room to expand.
The plants also benifit,
by increasing the biomass,
and by eliminating the competition.
In this manner, the garden will grow bigger and bigger over time,
and the ant colony with it.
This long-lasting mutualism can sometimes produce gardens as big
as 1300 square meters or 1500 square yards,
with 600 trees or more,
home to more than 15,000 queens and millions of workers.
Because each colony can have thousands of
queens and reproduce new ones every year,
they are potentially immortal.
The biggest devil’s gardens and their respective colonies
are therefore believed to be around 800 years old.