Leaf Cutter Ants

Believe it or not, the leaf cutter ant is a farming ant!  Leaf cutter ants live in massive underground colonies that may house several million worker ants.  In fact, the dirt excavated by the ants after digging all of their living chambers can weigh up to 44 tons.


photo M. Noonan

 

In the colony, worker ants of different sizes perform different jobs.  The largest of the workers are the soldier ants, who protect the colony from invaders using their strong jaws.  It has even been said that years ago the natives from Costa Rica would use the jaws of these ants as sutures to hold together the edges of a deep cut.

 


photo M. Noonan

Medium-sized ants forage and cut leaves for the fungus garden.  First, leaf sections are precisely cut into small pieces. The ants do not eat these leaves; instead they carry the leaf sections back to the nest to fuel their fungus garden.  Foraging ants are amazingly strong, carrying a leaf section back to the colony that is two or three times their own weight! Trails of foraging ants returning to their nest can stretch through the forest for over 150m.    Sometimes, very tiny worker ants will hitch a ride on the pieces of plant being carried back to the nest.  These small ants help to protect the larger workers from insect predators and parasites.

 

CAC is a program of the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.