The Farmer Ants

Ants have been farming for a lot longer than we have! Some of them farm aphids, like cattle, and drink the sweet honeydew they secrete in excess.

Leaf cutter ants
These are fast little dudes

In the tropics, leaf cutter ants are the dominant invertebrate farmers. They collect pieces of leaves (indeed, large colonies can completely defoliate a section of the understorey), and bring them back to the nest, where they cultivate a very specific fungal strain. They feed their young on this cultivated fungus.

Leaf cutter ants

Because the ants can’t digest the leaf tissue themselves, they rely on the fungus, and the fungus relies on them for food and transport. Somehow, on a forest floor cluttered with trillions of microbes, the ants are able to carry around a pure culture of one kind of fungus! This is a great example of a mutualistic symbiosis and it’s a fascinating system.

Leaf cutter ants

Leaf cutter ants are abundant in the lowland tropical rainforest of Campanario, and their trails criss cross the human ones. They were so common, in fact, that four student groups chose to study them on their independent projects this year! Like the army ants, they are more active at night, but can be found working hard all day long too.

Leaf cutter ants
They also collect other types of plant tissue, like petals and buds.

Leaf cutter ants

Leaf cutter ants
I like the little one riding on top!

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