The leaf cutter ant colony has been on display at the butterfly farm for a number of years and never cease to amaze our visitors with their constant activity. The colony currently on dispaly are a species known scientifically as Acromyrmex octospinosus. They are a leaf cutting ant native to Central and South America.
They are descendants of the original colony that was housed in Minibeast Metropolis. The ants live in the soil next to the waterfall and collect leaves from the nearby table and surrounding plants.
The ants all work together performing lots of different tasks, including the cultivation of fungus by collecting rotting leaves and taking them back to the colony.
Acromyrmex octospinosus are a multi queen colony meaning they can have several queens producing fertile eggs at a time unlike other ant species which only ever have one active.
The ant colony is basically a huge family who all need to work together as a team if they hope to collect enough food to survive. Like any family or team everyone must be assigned different jobs to make sure the team is working together efficiently. There are many different jobs within the ant colony but some of the most important jobs are as follows;
The Queen Ant
The queen ant is around the size of a baby mouse. Her job is simple, lay lots of eggs! She is capable of laying hundreds of eggs every day and is the only individual in the entire colony that can lay fertile eggs, without her the colony would cease to exist.
When the queen is fully productive she can lay several hundred eggs a day! That does not leave her much time to do anything else. The queen has the help of the nursery workers who are responsible for transporting the eggs to the correct chambers and feeding the larvae once they hatch.
Worker ants can be split into two further categories.
The larger individuals become foragers and the smaller individuals become gardeners.
Foragers find and cut the leaves, which they return to the nest. The ants do not eat the leaves but instead they are taken underground to the specialist gardener workers who chew the leaves, spit them out and defecate on them to promote and develop into fungus. It is the fungus that the ants can then eat. In a sense they are an army of miniature farmers!
A soldier ant’s role is to defend the colony from predators. They are much larger than the other ants, though not as large as the queen, and have enormous mandibles which can deliver quite a nasty pinch. – Cool Maya Fact – The Maya people used the soldier ants mandibles as stitches to bind together open wounds.
Some ants are tasked with removing waste and excavating new tunnels ready for gardener ants to fill with leaves and fungus.
The leafcutter ant colony is basically a girls club made up of millions of females and their queen! Males are only produced by the queen when required for reproductive purposes, they are fragile and usually only live for a few days after mating!
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