There are quite a few little creatures in the world that will completely surpise anyone with their lifestyle and one of them is “the leaf cutter ants”, today we decided to take a look into these amazing little creatures and answer one of the most common question regarding them which is “Why Do Leaf Cutter Ants Cut Leaves?”. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it
Leaf Cutter Ants cut leaves so as to use them as fertilizers for their fungus crops which their larvae will then go on to eat. Yes, you heard that right!, Leaf Cutter Ants farm their own food, amazing right?
About 50 million years ago, a group of ants started doing something that only three other types of animals, including humans, ever have “farming”. They started growing their own food. And about 40 million years after that, some of these fungus-farming ants started growing their underground fungus gardens by feeding them leaves that they collected by doing this.
Leaf Cutter Ants are some of the most interesting and, actually, most well-studied ants on earth. This is without a doubt a very unique behaviour that not only shows how intelligent these ants are but also advocate how similar we are to the other animals that surround us without us even realizing it
In a day a mature leafcutter ant nest can cut and gather hundreds of thousands of leaf fragments. Once an ant finds a suitable leaf and begins cutting it can recruit its nestmates to the leaf with a vibrational signal. It makes this signal by rapidly raising and lowering its abdomen while cutting the leaf. Sending vibrations through the jaws into the leaf and down the stem to nearby nestmates. The ant does this by moving its abdomen at this point here, scraping the series of microscopic grooves called stridulatory organ and producing a series of chirps at a frequency of one kilohertz. Leaf-cutting isn’t the only time these ants stridulate though.They also do so whilst digging, which is another context where stridulation also works as a short-range recruitment signal. During leaf cutting these chirps vibrate the mandible while it cuts. By vibrating the mandibles and by using the front foot to pull up on the leaf edge, cutting workers actively stiffen the leaf so they can make a smooth, easy cut.
Moreover, these Ants cut semicircular wedges out of the leaves by anchoring their legs on the edges and surface while rotating their bodies during cutting. Slicing through a leaf involves piercing with a leading mandible and pulling a fixed cutting mandible through the leaf.
Either mandible can function in either role, slicing through the leaf or advancing the path of the cut. Watching this happen from below, the cutting mandible slices and tears through the leaf as the ant uses the bite of the other jaw to pull it along. All of this is powered by massive muscles connecting to the jaws that account for 50% of the weight of the head and 25% of the ant’s total body mass. All of this leaf cutting is just the first step in feeding a living garden of fungus found inside the nest.
These ambitious ants appear to bite off more than they can chew, but they can actually carry pieces of leaves almost 50 times their own weight. That’s like a human carrying a car!
A garden that is continually grown over a decade or more of a colony’s life, supporting one of the most advanced animal societies on earth. So, cutting leaves off trees is a tiny little fraction of what these ants do. There’s so many more details like even before that leaf fragment is fed to the fungus there’s another round of cutting and cleaning that happens inside the nest.
So this aritcle has been all about ants that make their living from trees, and trees are pretty important to us too.
Do Grown Leaf Cutter Ants Also Eat The Fungus They Produce?
Yes, normally the fungus that is produced by the colony is eaten by the larvae of the colony as well as the grown ups. The larvae are prioritized in case of any kind of storage of food. And they too soon after growing up start contributing to the overall errands of the colony and start helping out in the process of this unique farming
How Do Leaf Cutter Ants Cut Leaves?
Ants cut semicircular wedges out of the leaves by anchoring their legs on the edges and surface while rotating their bodies during cutting. Slicing through a leaf involves piercing with a leading mandible and pulling a fixed cutting mandible through the leaf. Either mandible can function in either role, slicing through the leaf or advancing the path of the cut. All of this is powered by massive muscles connecting to the jaws that account for 50% of the weight of the head and 25% of the ant’s total body mass
Hopefully, this article was informative, and gave you some interesting insight about Leaf Cutter ants as well as they go on with their unique farming practices. If you have any further related questions feel free to use the comment section below. Moreover, if you want to know an answer to whether insects seek and take revenge, we have a great article written on just that, you can give that a look “here“. And if you want to go through some interesting facts about insects, natgeokids has a great article written on that, you can give that a look “here“