Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants descending from a tree, each with a piece of a leaf.

Once I was walking through a forest and came across an ant trail. There were thousands of tiny ants carrying huge pieces of leaves – all following one path through the forest. Leaf cutter ants are only found in the warmer parts of the Americas so I had never seen them before.

Leafcutter Ant Nests

Ant nests are huge! They can get up to 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. They have many entrances, sometimes hundreds of yards apart. They are maze-like with many different rooms. One of the types of rooms are the rooms where they put their leaves. Those rooms can be football sized. There can be over 300 of these rooms in one nest.

Food for Leafcutter Ants

Ants don’t actually eat the leaves; they put them in the leaf rooms I explained earlier. They mix it with poop and fungus spores. The fungus will grow and the ants eat the fungus. The fungus grown is only able to grow in these rooms. The ants spread out their food to prevent disaster if the leaves are poisoned or are harmful to the fungus. The ants eat up to 0.2 of the forest around them. However they spread out the trees they take leaves from which is probably why they have so many entrances.

The Ants

The ant colony is basically divided in three parts.

  • The small workers are the ones who go on top of the leaves to check for any impurities, like fly eggs.
  • The big workers, who cut off the leaves and bring them back. They can carry 10-20 times their own weight.
  • The soldiers, who guard the nest and the workers.

Their mandibles are plenty big and strong enough to cut up human skin. To see one, stomp on a nest and they will come pouring out. There is also the queen but she isn’t a category. She starts out her life with wings which she uses for mating. After mating she goes to a colony, loses her wings, and starts laying her eggs. She will spend the rest of her life laying eggs.

Leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants can carry up to 20 times their own weight!

Leafcutter ants

You can see the trail of ants from a long ways away.

Leafcutter ants

If something blocks their path, the ants scramble around trying to figure out a way around.

Leafcutter ants

Ants going one direction carry leaves. Those going the other way are empty handed.

by Daryl E. Vogel

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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