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Leafcutter Ants

Atta sp.


Leafcutter ants never cease to fascinate! They march in long trails along the rainforest floor, up and down rainforest trees, along vines and lianas while carrying thumbnail sized bits of rainforest foliage. A leafcutter colony can consist of millions of members. If you look closely at this picture you can see ants of different sizes. These represent different "castes" of ants - each with its own job to do. The large ant with the giant head is a Major. Majors defend the colony and clear the ant foraging trails. You can also see "minors" - the smallest ants in the photo. Minors defend the foraging trails and can sometimes be seen riding along on the bits of leaf carried by their "mediae" sisters.


Tropical habitats from the Southern US to South America.


Do you know what the ants do with all those leaf cuttings? They don't eat them as you might think! Rather they carry the cuttings back to the nest, chew them up into a pulp and then grow fungus on them. The ants then eat the fungus. Leafcutter ants have a mutualistic relationship with the fungus - neither can survive without the other!. When a queen starts a new colony she takes a bit of the fungus with her to get started. The fungus cannot survive without its ant cultivars. Turns out that the ants' symbiosis is far more complex than just the ants and the fungus. There are actually 4 - maybe more - species involved, making this .one of the most complex symbiotic relationship schemes in the world.

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Spotted by

Iquitos, Peru

Spotted on Jul 21, 2011
Submitted on Jun 21, 2012

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