One of the smallest, but certainly not the least amazing of the Amazonian animals is the Leafcutter ant. One of the only insects known to actually grow their own food, these clever ants have adapted to an agricultural system, where they have learned to cultivate fungus in their own ant chambers. To do this, they “feed” the fungi a series of plants and sense the reaction of the fungus. If there is a negative reaction to the leaves of the plant, the ants will stop collecting it and move to another.
A well-developed Leafcutter colony will consist of about 9 million ants, most of them being workers that bring leaves to their nest. Separated into a caste system, there are a series of minors and majors within the ant colony, but their size difference isn’t that great, making it a bit difficult to recognize the “soldiers” from the “workers”. The smaller ants, known as Minims and Minors, are in charge of caring for the fungus. They are also the first line of defense, and serve as patrols for the rest of the colony, attacking any intruder within their territory. Mediae and Majors are slightly bigger, and do the same jobs, except their tasks better suit their larger size. They carry heavy leaves back to the colony for the fungus, and act as soldiers and moving men, attacking enemies and pushing away heavy debris to make way for other workers. Out on the forest floor, these ants are vulnerable to parasitic pests that use their heads to lay their eggs. But like a well-built machine, the ants have leaned to defend themselves by having the smaller ants sit atop the bigger ant, and fight off any attackers.
Out on the forest floor, these ants are vulnerable to parasitic pests that use their heads to lay their eggs. But like a well-built machine, the ants have learned to defend themselves by having the smaller ants sit atop the bigger ant, and fight off any attackers.
Their name, “leaf cutter”, comes from their ability to slice off pieces of leaves with their powerful jaws. What is their secret? They can vibrate their “cutters” a thousand times a second to create a clean cut through any leaf. Soldier ants have jaws strong enough to cut through leather! Another amazing ability is their way of finding the nest after they’ve been away, foraging for leaves. They lay down a pheromone trail as they walk away from home. This scent is so powerful, that one-gram of it could create an ant trail around the world!