Insects & Arthropods

Leafcutter Ants (Atta, Acromyrmex)

Leafcutter Ants
Judith Wolfe

              Leafcutter Ants


Zoo collection includes: Lots and lots of ants and one Queen.

Found in the wild: Leaf-cutter ants make up the much of the biomass in the New World tropics. They support forest ecosystems by keeping soil turned and aerated and they recycle vegetation and soil nutrients. There are about 35 different species of leaf-cutter ants.

See Them at the Central Park Zoo: In a jazzy exhibit on the first floor of the tropical rain forest.

Description: Leaf-cutter ants have a three-part body consisting of a head, thorax, and abdomen. There are three pairs of legs attached to the thorax. Reproductive males and females have two sets of wings. There are different castes of leaf-cutter ants, each with slightly different sizes and body parts. Soldiers and all workers are sterile females. The castes are: queen, winged females, winged males, soldiers, foragers, leaf preparers/degraders, planters, and caretakers.
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What do they eat: Leaf-cutter ants eat the new growth of fungus grown on the mulch they make from the leaves of many plants.

Life span: A colony will live ten to 15 years—as long as the single queen ant lives. Since the queen is the only reproductive individual in the colony, when she dies the colony begins to fade.

Threats: Deforestation and habitat loss.

Fun Facts: These ants are they the only animals (other than humans) that cultivate their own food from fresh vegetation, but they also use sophisticated antibiotics against fungal pests in their gardens. Leaf-cutter ants communicate by releasing biochemical compounds called pheromones. Each ant receives its colony's distinct odor shortly after hatching from the egg. Other pheromones identify each individual ant according to its caste and job. A mature colony has between three and eight million ants at any given time. Generally, the population has a queen and her sterile worker daughters.

 

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