Photo Gallery: Leafcutter Ants

ants on a tree

The leafcutter ants are busy carrying pieces of leaves they have cut from the top of the tree. Here they are carrying the pieces down the trunk of the tree. Sometimes the ants have to walk straight up a 100-foot tall tree trunk, cut the leaf pieces and then walk vertically down carying a load. If it rains very hard, they will drop the leaves and run home to shelter.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

ants carrying leaves

 

If we look closer, we can see how the ants hold onto the leaf pieces and all the tiny leaf-rider ants hanging onto the leaves, getting a ride on top.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

ants carrying leaves

The leaf-rider ants need to wave at flying insects that would love to lay their eggs on the leaf pieces. Then the ants would carry the eggs into their nest, where the eggs of other insects would be raised by the ants. The foreign insects are free-loaders that we call "parasites." How can the leaf-riders wave any legs if they are hanging on so tightly?
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

ants carrying a leaf


An even closer view of a leaf rider shows the size difference between them and the ants that carry the leaves. There are even larger ants that are soldiers who protect the workers and their home underground by biting andstinging any predators.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002

heap of dirt

This shows the ants' trash heap at the base of a tree. Our giant mushroom from entry #8 is growing on this heap too. There are still lots of nutrients in this trash from the ant colony. Many other fungi and plants can use those nutrients.
Photo Credit: Jacalyn Willis, 2002