Field of Science

Little ants bring big rainforest down to size

Rain forest is one great place for viewing interesting biological interactions. And one little thing about the tropics is pretty easy to remember, ants are everywhere. This field station is home to over 500 species according to the experts. But without question one of the most prominent and common of these are the leaf cutter ants (Atta). Leaf cutter ants do not eat leaves, although in their millions they are one of the biggest "herbivores" in the rain forest. Piece by piece they carry the canopy back into their subterranean nest to cultivate a very specific fungus, which reciprocates being so well cared for and fed by providing the ants with food. And so you do not have to walk very far to view the highly amusing parades of workers carrying pieces of tree leaves to their nest. Out bound workers rush by to get more leaf pieces. Larger ants are soldiers protecting the workers, and if you watch closely you'll see "riders", somewhat smaller ants riding along on many of the leaf pieces. This peculiar behavior functions to protect the riders from parasitic flies who seek to lay eggs on workers returning to the nest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the video. I always like seeing leaf-cutters bustling along. It looks as if they're carrying little parasols.