Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ants Marching

While at Asa Wright in Trinidad I saw my first leaf cutter ants in the wild.

I'm a bit of an ant aficionado, and these gals were very cool.

You can see in these images the size differences in the worker ants, with the larger ones carrying the leaves ...

... and the smaller ants riding the leaf cuttings doing both cleaning duty, clearing the leaves in preparation for fungus farming in the nest, you don't want any foreign fungi to contaminate the crop ...

... as well as providing defense against small wasps that lay eggs on the ants, the larva once hatched eating the host ant. A rather unpleasant way to go.

The defense forces also included these larger soldiers, who are around to protect the colony from larger threats, such as me. 

These ants, all sisters, were tireless workers. (The males, true slackers, hatch, mate, and die.)

Each individual leaf cutting is small, about the size of a US dime. But in aggregate there was quite a bit of vegetation being moved. 

The above image shows a small part of the trial of ants, a trail that stretched several hundred meters from the nest down the hillside trail and then off into the forest and up into the trees. The video below shows the same part of the trail, with some ants coming back to the nest with leaf cuttings, and others going back for more.

I would have like to get more photos and video but I had to cut it short because it start to pour (rain in a rain forest, imagine that!) and digital cameras don't do well when wet.

But the ants kept on going. I suspect that they are still going.

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