The leafcutters ants share basic characteristics with other insects of the same type as they have three body segments, antennae, legs, eyes, etc. However, a few of their distinguishing features which make them different, like powerful jaws and longer legs.
What Does a Leafcutter Ant Look Like? A leafcutter ant looks like an ant with scales and spines on the abdominal region and head or thorax. Moreover, it appears reddish, brownish, or black and is 1.5 to 24mm long. It is known as a fungi eater, shows nocturnal behavior, and cuts or carries leaves with strong mandibles. Furthermore, they have larger colonies based on four cast types and multiple queens.
Every ant species has distinguishing characteristics in addition to distinct scientific and common names that help them identify accurately.
What are the common names of leafcutter ants?
Leafcutter ants have got several common names in different regions of the world in addition to the single scientific name, Atta cephalotes used globally.
They are known as leafcutters or cut ants because they can cut the leaf fragment using their strong jaws to form semi-circular holes.
In addition, parasol ants is another name for these insects, which is given for casting a shadow while carrying the fragments in their mouth.
Parasol means umbrellas that protect from sun rays by providing shade, so these insects carrying fragments appear like umbrellas as the chunks provide shade during movement from light areas.
Furthermore, the Texas leaf cutters are called town ants because they appear in clusters. Night ant and fungus ant are other names of the same species showing their behavior and function.
How to identify a leafcutter ant?
It is not difficult to identify a leafcutter ant as it has many distinguishing features that make it different from other species.
Scales and spines in the body
Like other insects, they have three main body parts: the head, abdomen, and thorax. However, you can find prominent scales on their abdominal region.
Additionally, they have three distinct pairs of spines on their body, particularly on the head and thorax region, that do not appear straight in shape.
Two pairs of spines are present on the promesonotum or the thorax region in a curved structure, while one is on the head.
Furthermore, these scales and spines make it easy to identify a particular group of ants as all of them do not have scaly abdomens and spiny thorax.
Every ant species has different eating habits as some like to consume fruits, sweet items, and honeydew, while a few of these insects like to eat fungi.
They are named fungi ants based on their specific function because they farm fungi and eat it for better digestion of the complex compounds in leaves.
They do not eat leaves directly as their digestive enzymes are not effective in breaking the complex polymers of leaves, so they need help from fungus to degrade them.
Furthermore, they have powerful jaws that help them hold leaves firmly while returning them to their nests.
They are involved in activities at night time in addition to daytime and forage for food in the dark.
This nocturnal behavior is seen in these ants during the summer, when they keep foraging for food during the day and build mounds at night, unlike other species.
However, they are inactive on cold days and enter a hibernation stage. The whole colony is nocturnal, and the tasks of foraging are divided between the workers working day and night.
According to research conducted on the colony behavior, it is found that their colony consists of diurnal and nocturnal insects according to their preferred time for foraging.
The bigger ones are diurnal as they have to carry bigger leaf segments, while nocturnal ones are smaller and do not participate in the transportation process.
They have distinct body colors and appear reddish or brownish, while a few have black bodies. In addition, their legs are longer in size than their bodies offering more strength to these insects.
Additionally, three pairs of teeth and five eyes, including two compounds and three simple, are present on their bodies.
The size of the head and body varies according to the castes or types of members in a colony, as the queen is larger in size, while sterile males and workers are half in size as the queen.
Furthermore, the head of the smallest ant in a colony is around 0.7 to 0.9mm wide, while the bigger ones or queens have larger heads that are almost 4 to 5mm wide.
The workers have an average head size that is around 2.1 to 2.3mm in width. Additionally, their height is about 1.5 to 24mm, including queens that are 20 to 24mm longer.
The workers are 1.5 to 12 mm long, shorter than the queen and their wing size is also shorter than the reproductive females.
They are carriers of leaf fragments that can be seen while observing their trails, from forests to nests.
Moreover, they can carry heavy vegetation as their bodies are strong enough to carry maximum weight.
They carry heavy loads of leaves into their mouth by fixing them in mandibles and taking them to their nests to build a fungal garden.
Such leaf-carrying property is not found in other ant species because they can survive on other food sources and do not need fungus for food digestion.
The leafcutter ant colonies comprise millions of members that occupy a large surface on the ground and are difficult to control.
The nests of these insects are spread on a diameter of around 40 to 50 feet surface area, while these are almost 15 to 20 feet deep in the ground.
Their colonies have multiple queens, as a few colonies contain more than one queen, depending on their size and nest requirements.
The increased size of their colony makes them different from others as they can defend themselves against a predator in a better manner when they fight in larger groups.
Are leafcutter ants known as first farmers?
The leaf-cutting insects have been working for millions of years ago on this planet and contributing to the agriculture sector.
They are considered the first farmers on the planet as these play a role similar to farmers, applying fertilizers and improving soil conditions.
Moreover, the bacteria providing nitrogen to fungus are fertilizers that improve fungal growth. In addition, they excrete antibacterial compounds for disinfection of the platform preventing the onset of infections.
They have been farming fungus for a long time and maintain ideal conditions by cleaning the debris through weeding and caring for the fungi.
Furthermore, these leafcutter ants are known to farm fungi from 40 to 50 million years ago when the dinosaurs became extinct; that’s why they were considered as the first farmers.
How much does a leafcutter ant weigh?
The average weight of a leafcutter ant is almost 1 to 5 mg, which varies in different colonies’ castes. Soldier ants are the larger female workers that can exceed weight up to 2mg.
However, the minims are smaller, only 2 to 3mm long, and weigh almost 1 to 2mg. The media worker is a bit longer than minims and is 8 to 10mm in length.
Additionally, the majors are bigger than workers and are 18 to 20mm longer, having a weight of 3 to 4mg.
Furthermore, the queens are the largest and heaviest members in a colony and are 20 to 24mm longer and weigh around 4 to 5mg.