Plants, ants, and ant-eaters

Some animals challenge the human tendency to assume our superior nature. Leafcutter ants (Atta sp.) are one of these species. These ants explore the forest, choosing only the trees with the tastiest leaves. They then send thousands of workers to systematically cut small sections from each leaf. The harvested material is carried back to their nest along trails they build in the forest – long paths devoid of all vegetation, highways for ants. Once the leaves are safely in the nest, they are fed to a certain species of fungus which is cultivated underground by the ants – and it is this fungus which serves as the ultimate food source for the leafcutter ants. Not bad for a species with a head the size of a pin!

Below is a short video I made of these ants on one of their trails through the forest. Watch for a flowers. Ants can carry many times their body weight, because of how muscle power and volume scales with body size. Small animals are proportionately much stronger than large ones.

Of course, ants sometimes meet untimely ends of their own. Here is an anteater, Tamandua sp. climbing up a liana, looking for arboreal ants. I surprised this animal, which was resting hidden in a vine tangle just next to my head – it made a dash for the canopy just as I pulled out the camera. This forest is full of surprises…

Leave a Reply