Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants

My favorite ant in all the world.  I first saw this phenomenal creature in the Amazon, and have seen it many times in other New World tropical rainforests.  Aside from humans, leafcutters form the largest and most complex animal society on Earth (Wikipedia).  They can be found primarily in South and Central America and Mexico.


Upon first sight, they look like green leaves marching on the trail.  There are long lines of them–so long you can’t see where the parade starts or stops.  A closer view reveals that each piece of leaf is being carried by one ant.  The leaf is about three times bigger than the ant.


There is so much activity on a rainforest trail, it is easy not to notice them.  Mosquitoes are biting, the mud is slippery, unfamiliar creatures are screaming and squawking, and you’ve just been told to watch out for “monkey splatter.”  But after awhile you get your bearings, and might wonder:  why are so many ants carrying leaf bits down the trail?


They have just bitten a leaf morsel off a live tree and are now carrying it to their nest.  Once the ant arrives at its destination, it carries it’s green load down the center hole, and disappears from human sight. From the outside the nest is a nondescript dirt mound with a hole in the center.  But whoa, there is so much bustling activity inside this huge world.  The nests can eventually spread to 6,000 square feet with 8 million individuals in it!


The Nest.  It is actually a growing, living fungus.  The ants raise their young here, and need this fungus to feed their larvae.  Equally as dependent, the fungus needs the ants to nourish and tend it.  The fresh-cut leaves provide enzymes for the fungus to flourish.  In addition, the ants provide antibiotic bacteria to keep the fungus healthy.  This process is called ant-fungus mutualism.


Once the transporter leafcutters take the leaf pieces down into the hole, another group starts chewing.  They chew the leaves into a paste, breaking it down for the fungus to use.  As ant communities will be, other castes of leafcutters work earnestly to do their specific job.  You can read more about leafcutter ants by clicking here.


With all this ant life and enterprise taking place beside my two colossal feet, I figure it’s the least I can do not to step on them.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



51 thoughts on “Leafcutter Ants

  1. The world of the ants is like an alien culture, they are very organized and controlled citadels. I was lucky to experience these ants in the Amazon (Peru-Brazil) and they had a good taste of me (Some day I’ll write a short story about it) I love your blogs Jet we’ve shared a lot of this Natural World! Thanks! 🙂

    • Yes, I agree, HJ, the world of ants is certainly its own culture. And there’s nowhere like the Amazon to introduce us to this vast world. I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed my blogs, HJ, and am ever appreciative for your kind words and visits. I really enjoy your blogs a lot, too. I hope your week is wonderful…. 😀

  2. Fascinating! There’s so much going on around us that we don’t see/know about. Unless we really look. I am grateful that you look, Jet.

    • I love watching all the many cultures that unfold on this earth, but no matter how much I look, there’s always a lot more I have missed. It takes all of us. So I hope you will help me, Nan, and let me know what you find! So grateful for your kind comment and visit. 😀

    • That’s a house way bigger than mine…but I’m glad there aren’t 8 million people around me! Glad you enjoyed the post, Amy. Thank you so much. You have a great week too! I suppose it’s a little tough not vacationing in the aloha state anymore, but hopefully you’re enjoying life on the mainland too. 😀

  3. Makes you wonder if there is a ant marching band playing along the way but we just can’t hear it. The ants go marching 2 by 2 hurrahhhhhhh hurrahhhhhhhhh…

  4. Leaf cutter ants are my favourite ants too! What a treat to see them in real life in the rainforest. My partner and I once saw them in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was late evening and we were just leaving a restaurant and walking down the sidewalk to hail a cab when we noticed little twinkling rivulets of flashing light moving down the sidewalk. We had no idea what this magical sight was and when we got up close enough to see, we discovered the twinkling lights were made by leaf cutter ants moving to and fro—between the full moon and street lights, there was enough light to magically illuminate and reflect off their “little green sails”. We followed the trail for a couple of blocks until it turned down a dark alley. It was so magical, it’s something I still think about to this day! Thanks for all the info. I always enjoy reading about these fascinating symbiotic relationships. :))

    • Oh Jeannie, I liked your description so much! green sails–twinkling rivulets–yes! You know exactly what I’m talking about! Thanks so much for taking the time to tell this endearing story. It’s so how travel is, when you can be with what is. Thanks so much for your comment and visit. 😀

  5. Love those little,diligent creatures such as : bees and ants and I so much enjoyed the captivating description of the Leafcutter Ants and their society!
    Stunned by the incredible details concerning their abilities and their organized life.When I walk my dogs in Mount Penteli,where we live,I love watching them work hard and patiently under the hot sun.They form very long lines and they parade,but they are not the leafcutters,they are sort of seed-collectors … Lovely the photo with the disciplined fluorescent greens parading in lines.
    I don’t want to start again my endless praises for your work !!!!!!!!!!!
    A big thank you, is enough,I am sure you can read more behind … 🙂

    • I agree, Doda, it’s amazing what goes on with ants and their industrious lives. I’m really happy to hear from you, and am delighted that you enjoyed my post. Thank you so much for your continuing support and kind words, dear Doda. It’s early dawn right now where I live, but your day is in full swing — I hope it is going well. 😀 😀

      • Yes,all is fine,thank you dear friend Jet.
        I have read all your captivating recent posts and I have left my humble comments.Hope you see them 🙂 I really admire your knowledge on natural histoty and the style of your advanced writing.You are really talented,you put your soul into what you do and that is very obvious to the reader.Hope you have a creative day 🙂

      • That is very kind of you, thank you dear Doda. I am expecting to complete my newest mystery novel this spring, and the blogging has been wonderful for keeping my writing skills nimble. I really appreciate your noticing, and your kind comments. And I SO appreciate all of your comments, and replied to each one. What a wonderful day of exchanges we have had today — thank you dear Doda. 😀

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