Description: There are at least 39 different species of leafcutter ants found in Central and South America that belong to two genera – Atta and Acromyrmex. Many Atta species are considered agricultural pests. Leafcutter Ants are among the world’s most interesting insects, forming massive colonies of up to eight million individuals. Leafcutter Ant colonies are highly stratified and ants within the colony are divided into castes:
- Drones – Male ants that mate with the queen. They die shortly after mating.
- Minims are small worker ants that measure less than one millimeter in length
- Minors are slightly larger than minims and form the colony’s defensive lines. These ants may measure up to two millimeters in length.
- Mediae are foraging ants and bring leaves and leaf fragments back to the colony
- Majors are the largest worker ants and also serve as soldiers. These ants can measure up to 16 millimeters in length.
- The Queen is the matriarch of the colony, though there are sometimes multiple queens in a colony. The Queen and the drones are the only members of the colony that can fly, but the female loses her wings after mating. She may lay thousands of eggs per day.
Leafcutter Ants are completely self-sufficient and feed off of a fungus that grows on the leaves that are carried into a part of the colony known as the fungus garden. When the leaf is brought into the colony, it is chewed up and deposited along with ant droppings and fungus spores. The edible fungus then grows from the mixture. An average leafcutter ant can carry a leaf that may weigh more than ten times its own body weight. Their jaws vibrate one thousand times a second to help them saw off sections of leaf.