Video: See Leafcutter Ants in Action

The Washington Post has a new video this week featuring Ted Schultz, research entomologist at the National Museum of Natural History.

The peculiarity of ant farmers at the National Museum of Natural History (video link). Note:  Sorry, the next video in the series autoplays when this one is done unless you stop it.

The video accompanies an article by Sarah Kaplan, “These strange, subterranean cities are eerily like our own. But they’re ruled by ants.”

atta1-alex-wild-public-domainPublic Domain Photograph of a Leafcutter Ant Fungus Garden by Alex Wild.


Leafcutter Ant Mound and Antlions

The leafcutter ants were busy in Tucson a few weeks ago.

Check out this mound the ants had constructed.

Most of the workers I saw were carrying clumps of dirt/pebbles.

The worker dumped her load and then went back for more.

The surface of the mound looks like a boulder field from the perspective of the ant.

Harvester ants and other types ants also have pebbles on the surface of their mounds. (Harvester ants decorate their mounds with other things as well.)

A curious docent wondered why I was taking photographs of the ants. After wishing the mound was in the sun, she volunteered to show me another mound she knew of that she thought might be in the sunlight.

Turns out it wasn’t in the sun, but there was something else there.

You see those cords? A crew that was stringing Christmas lights had trampled the leafcutters’ mound. I’m not sure whether the ants simply reverted to another entrance or whether they abandoned the nest.

I was intrigued to see those circles though. Do you know what they are?

Those are pits made by larval antlions (See previous post about antlions.)

Antlions seem to prefer fine, powdery soil (The Antlion Pit).

So, do you think perhaps ants may decorate their mounds with pebbles in an effort to keep down antlions, as well as other species of ants as has been suggested? Do you know of anyone who has studied this possibility?

Ants at California Academy of Sciences

Ant-related Citizen Science Project

If you live in the San Francisco area and are interested in citizen science, you might want to check into the California Academy of Science’s Bay Area Ant Survey.

First you need to request an ant collecting kit from the Naturalist Center (see information at the link above). Then collect ants. When you are done, send your ant-filled vial and data sheet back to the Naturalist Center. Results will be uploaded to AntWeb and your contribution will become part of the scientific record. Cool!

If you are a teacher in the Bay area, and you would like your class to participate, ant collecting kits are available.

Leafcutter Ant Exhibit

Have you seen the leafcutter ant exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park? It is in the 4-story rainforest.


The food is added in a clear plastic container.


The ants then trail back a fake vine back to the nest display area.


Leafcutter ants are cool to watch no matter what the circumstances.


Don’t expect to get spectatcular photographs, however, because flash photography is prohibited.

These ant made the news recently when they managed to escape from their enclosure. Best-Laid Plans Fail to Trap Ants at Academy of Sciences by Jim Carlton gives the details. I’m not surprised, ants are very good at finding their way out of artificial nests. 🙂

I am always surprised, however, at what the fungus garden looks like. I guess I expect a fungus garden to look, well, moldy. Instead it looks like fresh, white cotton batting.

Here’s some pics from a different leafcutter ant exhibit:


In this case the yellow is corn meal they are using as substrate for the fungus.


Do you know if anyone has ever tried tasting it? Aren’t leafcutter ants amazing?