Ants, Leaves & Fungus Farms
Leaf cutter ants are a species of fungus-farming ants equipped with sharp-toothed jaws that allow them to slice and dice anything from plant leaves to flower petals. These lumber-jack like ants are also outfitted with tips at the end of their legs that can grasp and hold onto plants as they cut through materials. Overall body size can vary among the species of leaf cutter ants and determine an ant’s role in the colony.
These complex civilizations are built upon the idea that cooperation will sustain their existence, so it is no surprise that species of leaf cutter ants have well-established their practice of agriculture. Since the duties of leaf cutter ants are diverse, many types of jobs can be delegated to specific groups of ants within the colony. Forager ants with more powerful jaws will be in charge of cutting up foliage for smaller ants take the material back to the nest. Worker ants can be found tending the fungus garden while patrol ants protect the nest from enemies. Older ants will usually be given less-desirable jobs, such as waste disposal.
Efficiency is essential for leaf cutter ants, as a colony will move an estimated volume of 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of vegetation in a year. In just 24 hours, a colony could strip a citrus-type tree and haul the matter back to their nest. Of course, this feat is possible since colonies can be composed of millions and millions of ants.
The main goal of a leaf cutter ant colony is to collect cut up plant materials that can be turned into an underground fungus garden that will serve as a food source. Leaf cutter ants have to survive off of their cultivated crop of fungi because they are unable to digest the cellulose in leaves. The farmed fungal growth also relies on the ants to protect it from pests and dispose of waste that could affect the health of the fungi. Leaf cutter ants can even sense chemical signals from the fungi if certain plant materials are toxic to the growth.
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