© Edgardo Carducci
An introduction to leaf cutter ants
Leaf cutters ants are the largest and most complex of animal societies found on Earth. There are around 50 different known leaf cutting or fungus growing ant species.
These ants are gardeners. They cut and carry leaves back to their nest where they create an environment ideal to grow a special fungus which is used for food and antibiotics.
The nests are so large that they build their own ventilation systems to maintain a constant flow of fresh air fresh for the ants and fungus growth.
Many in-depth studies and books have been created on this species. These fascinating ants can be seen in museums and zoos around the world.
Atta cephalotes (featured), Atta sp, Acromyrmex sp.
Leaf cutter ants are wide spread across tropical Central and Southern America. Atta cephalotes ranges from southern Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil.
Leaf cutter ant colonies are found near tropical forest edges. Their underground nests can be up to 9 meters deep covering areas of up to one acre. The central mounds can reach 30 meters width in only a few years. Sub entrances can be found as far as 80 meters from the main nest.
Leaf cutter ants cultivate fungus grown from the leaves of brambles, rose, citrus and oak plants/trees.
Leaf cutter ant colonies have been found with up to 10 million workers.
Leaf cutter ant queens are typically 30mm length, they are dull brown, very chubby, and are monogyn (one queen per colony).
These queens have been known to live for up to 15 years. They can lay up to 1000 eggs each day.
Leaf cutter worker ants are typically 8-12mm. Light brown/orange, with spikes on their backs.
These ants also have median castes which are sized in-between the minor and major workers.
18mm. Brown, spikes on back, large head and mandibles used for cutting thick vegetation.
The largest major workers can weigh several 100 times more than the smallest minor workers.
Leaf cutter ant workers have ’em’ jaws which allow for a strong and painful bite. Major workers can even cut through leather.
One colony of these ants can strip a whole tree of its leaves in just one day. They are responsible for destroying more vegetation than any other group of animals, as a result of this they cost the crop industry more than one billion dollars each year.
Risk declarations must be completed if this species is housed outside of its country of origin. Leaf cutter or fungus growing ants make the ultimate pets. However they are high maintenance and tricky to keep in captivity. They require controlled temperatures, humidity, a constant supply of fresh leaves, large space to collect leaves from, a suitable tank for fungus growing and a dumping tank. The equipment setup is expensive.
Approximately only 10% of leaf cutter queens in actually go on to reign a successful colony when raised in captivity.
It’s best to see them in the wild or museums and zoos.