It is not difficult to identify leafcutter ants as their physical characteristics, including reddish body color and strong jaws, distinguish them from others.
What Are Leafcutter Ants? Leafcutter ants are known for their leaf chewing abilities using their saw-like teeth. Moreover, they are fungi farming species that build a fungi garden through leaf clippings to consume as food. In addition, they eat plant sap to get nutrition and have massive colonies of around 2 to 10 million members. Furthermore, anteaters, spiders, and armadillos are the enemies of these ants.
Their name indicates that these insects can cut leaves and create holes without the intention of eating them.
Facts about leafcutter ants
|Scientific name||Atta cephalotes|
|Body size||1.5 to 25 mm|
|Body color||Dark red, brown, reddish-brown|
|Number of legs||6|
|Lifespan||10 to 18 years|
|Number of ants in a colony||2-10 million members|
|Nest size||50 to 60 feet|
|Habitat||Deciduous and rainforests, woodland|
|Nutrition||Fungus and Plant sap|
|Predators||Anteaters, birds, reptiles|
|Strength||30 to 50 times|
Where are leafcutter ants found?
The leafcutter ants are present throughout America, particularly in South, North, and Central America. It occupies the tropical rainforests and consumes nutrients from vegetation.
Moreover, Mexico has a vast population of these insects chewing leaves and is responsible for agriculture loss. They are herbivores and feed on leaves to get nutritious plant sap. They need fungi to extract nutrients.
In addition, they benefit the ecosystem and increase soil richness or extensive control growth of plants that cover the smaller plants.
The shade of larger trees can prevent the growth of smaller plants by restricting their growth, so these insects create holes to allow sunlight to reach small plants.
Furthermore, they are also found in the open woodlands and deciduous forests of the southern states of the US. They can also invade scrub forests and related areas providing similar habitats.
What is the lifespan of leafcutter ants?
They are known for their chewing capabilities that can create a hole in the leaf. They appear reddish brown, are 1.5 to 25mm long, and have a longer lifespan.
The worker ants can live for almost 10 to 14 years, while the queens have a longer lifespan that can survive for around 12 to 18 years.
Moreover, they can die earlier if any predator attacks them or their nest gets disturbed due to intruders like humans.
The queen’s death can lead to the end of the whole colony, but new queens in the leafcutter ant colony can help improve their survival.
Furthermore, they have massive colonies that provide excellent support to injured ones and protect each other against attack.
What do leafcutter ants like to eat?
The leafcutter ants are herbivores and prefer to consume leaves and the liquid material from plant leaves. They have to perform challenging tasks like carrying leaves to nests, so they need energy.
Moreover, they extract xylem sap from the plant, providing an excellent nutritional source to these insects and providing instant energy to perform the tasks.
In addition, their primary goal is to farm fungus by providing a suitable platform and maintaining a good moisture level essential for fungal growth.
They make efforts to grow fungus for the consumption of nutrients to ensure survival and feed their larvae. They grow a specific fungus type by tending it with leaf clippings and grass blades.
Furthermore, they feed on a particular type of fungus called Leucocoprineae, which secrete chemicals as warning signals when they have added a toxic leaf to the platform.
What is the size of the leafcutter ant colony?
Their colony comprises millions of members and a queen that supports the whole colony by introducing sterile females as workers and soldiers and ensuring survival.
These insects can build colonies of almost 2 to 7 million consisting of four types of castes, including majors or soldiers and minors or guard nests.
In addition, it comprises the media or foragers and minims that tend to fungus growth and build their gardens in the nest.
However, the colony size can increase to 10 million members, building thousands of specialized chambers in the nest to accommodate the larvae and adult ones.
The nests are 10 to 15 feet deep in the ground and are extended to almost 30 to 50 feet in length. They prefer to move together through scent trails to carry the significant leaf clipping collectively.
Are leafcutter ants strong?
These ants are strong enough to carry heavy leaves or clippings into their mouth and take them to the underground nests.
Moreover, it is difficult to haul leaves while taking them from forests to nests as it requires strength to tolerate the heavy load.
Leaves are considered heavy objects for these small creatures as it seems equal to the weight of around 550 to 600 pounds to humans.
They have strong teeth that work like saws and help create holes in the leaves within a short time, and they also have strong legs.
They have six legs that are longer than others that play a role in carrying the clippings. They take clippings in their mouth, maintain a firm grip, and move towards their destination.
Furthermore, they can carry a weight of around 40 to 50 times more than their body weight showing their extreme strength.
Are leafcutter ants poisonous?
Leafcutter ants have poison glands that secrete chemical substances to attract other fellow insects to the food source or recruit them to a particular location.
In addition, these chemicals can also help make foraging trails to find out the path for getting back to the same food source.
These are not poisonous and avoid biting on the human body until these insects do not feel threatened and humans are not interfering in their nests and disrupting their colonies.
Furthermore, they avoid eating sap and collecting toxic plants as it can affect fungal growth and food source.
They have a powerful bite due to strong teeth but lack a sting that helps sting the skin by injecting poisonous chemicals.
What are leaf cutter ants’ enemies?
Many animals and larger insects try to attack the tiny ants and consume their food. However, one of the leafcutter ants’ most potent predators is the armadillo, a burrowing mammal.
In addition, they risk attacks from the birds like starlings and sparrows that can consume these tiny creatures to fulfill their nutritional needs.
Reptiles and animals, including lizards, aardvark, giant anteaters, etc., like to eat them whenever they encounter these tiny insects.
Furthermore, these are a primary food source of spiders as it is easy for them to attack and eat the ants due to jumping abilities and excellent vision.