Leaf Cutter Ants

August 14, 2012
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Workers in a massive farming industry best describes the amazing leaf-cutter ants.

People visiting the neo-tropical regions of Central and South America are often treated to observations of leaf-cutter ants as well worn trails, full of life, carrying leaves as well as flower parts back to their farm and nest mound. I have observed mounds in excess of 20 feet in length and 15 feet across and many of these mounds will be 15 feet deep. The worker ants are continually traveling to and from the mound as they are on a mission to bring back plants for their fungal cultures deep within their mound. Some ants bring back a certain type of leaf while others are directed to certain flowers.

At times, a leaf cutter trail may appear to be a movement of bright pink as flowers from legumes may be carried and other trails may be red or blue depending upon the variety of flower being harvested. Deep within the mounds, the plant material is deposited into the culture where fungi work their magic in very complex society. The leaves cannot be eaten by the ants but rather they feed on the fungi that rapidly encompass the plant material. This serves as food for the colony and it is an example of a wonderful symbiotic relationship between insects and fungi.

Article & photo courtesy of Greg Greer