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Leaf Cutter Ants

Leaf-cutter ants (atta sexdens) they are about 2.1mm and they can grow up to 12,5 mm. They live 10-15 years as long as the queen is alive.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Leaf-cutter ants

Queen ants usually have one main job: they lay all of the eggs that develop into all of the worker ants in the nest. Queens spend most of their time hiding deep inside of the nest, out of harm’s way.

They use the leaves that they carry back to their nest to grow a fungus just like a farmer might grow tomatoes, or lettuce. What do they do with the fungus? They eat it. You might be thinking yuck about now, but for leafcutter ants fungus is their food of choice. Leafcutter ants don’t actually eat the leaves that they harvest. They use the leaves to grow mushrooms, and then they eat the mushrooms. So the ants are actually farmers.

They collect leaves from the upper parts of the canopy. Take dead ants and other waste to an underground dump sites or to a trash dump above ground. Their method of leaf gathering prevents trees outside the colony from being strpped bare like the ones inside the colonie’s home place. These ants are a very good source of proteins for humans. Folklore also claims that indians used the jaws of the ant soldier as sutures to hold together the edges of a wound. Thety store the leafs they cut underground for fungus to grow on them and there would be more food for the colony.

Life Cycle :Leaf cutting ants are social insects. Queen ants deposit eggs that hatch into cream colored larvae. Fully developed 1/4 to ½ inch long larvae form pupae. In the spring, some larvae develop into larger (3/4 inch long) winged male and female ants, called reproductives. Males have much smaller heads than do females and both have long smoky black wings. Sometime between April and June, on clear moonless nights, and usually after heavy rains, these winged ants leave the colony on mating flights. These ants are attracted to porch lights and are some of the largest ants encountered.

Virgin queens carry a small piece of the fungus from their parent colony in a small cavity inside their mouths. After mating, the males die. The queen loses her wings and digs a small tunnel or gallery in which they begin laying eggs and culturing her fungus garden on her feces.

The queen feeds largely on her own eggs until small worker ants develop from the surviving eggs and begin to collect foliage on which to culture the fungus. Colonies can survive for many years and colonies may contain over 2 million ants. The nest interior may be 15 to 20 ft. deep and contain numerous chambers interconnected by tunnels.

Damage : Mouthparts are for chewing. Worker ants remove leaves and buds from weeds, small grains, forage and turf grasses, fruit and nut trees including plum and peach trees, blackberry bushes, and many ornamental plants. Pine trees and pine seedlings may also be damaged when other plant material is scarce. Defoliation is particularly noticeable during winter months. Worker ants forage when temperatures range from 45 to 80 degrees F during the year, but mainly at night during the summer. Worker ants travel up to 600 ft. or more along foraging trails and dismantle foliage into leaf pieces that they carry back to the colony over their bodies. In the colony the pieces of leaves are used to raise a fungus. All members of the colony feed exclusively on the fungus.

Control : Plant applications do little to eliminate the underground nest. The large size and complexity of leaf cutter ant nests makes it difficult to obtain good control with dust, liquid or granular insecticides. Because these ants eat only the fungus they cultivate, they do not respond to most other ant baits, such as those labeled for fire ants. Plants can be protected temporarily using dust or granular formulations of contact insecticides, like acephate, carbaryl or permethrin, such treatments must be reapplied frequently.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Leaf Cutter Ants

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