Leafcutter Ants

A column of leafcutter ants (could be Atta sp., could be Acromyrmex sp.) — possibly the coolest thing I saw in Costa Maya, Mexico. They formed a column a foot wide and more than a hundred feet long, something I’d seen in a thousand documentaries and never in person. I could hear David Attenborough narrating them. Tourists were stepping over the column of ants, laughing. I wish I’d thought to take a video.

There are 47 species of leafcutter ants. They are essentially tiny farmers, carefully cutting pieces off different trees and plants and bringing them back to their nests, which are hidden in nests under the forest floor. In the nest, they inject the plant pieces with a fungal secretion which digests the plants (which are often poisonous) into an edible mushroom form. Leafcutter ants are found in Latin America and the Caribbean. They consume more vegetation than any other animal group, but appear to gather fragments from different plants and trees rather than simply denuding the landscape, so their harvests can continue.

The primary predator of the leafcutter ant is the armadillo.

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