Zoo Map
 

Leaf-Cutter Ants

Classification
  • Order: Hymenoptera
  • Family: Formicidae
  • Genus: Atta
  • Species: cephalotes
Fun Fact

Leaf-cutter ants' jaws vibrate a thousand times per second to cut and break down leaves. 

View On Zoo Map Sponsor This Animal



    About Leaf-Cutter Ants

    One colony can contain up to two million leaf cutter ants. The queen lays eggs while worker ants have different jobs depending on their size.

    Medium-sized worker ants cut leaves with their jaw and return plants to the nest. Small worker ants chew on the leaves, turning them into “fungus gardens” which act as the food source for a leaf-cutter colony. Large leaf-cutter ants guard the colony by keeping a lookout for potential threats. Leaf-cutter ants work in their “caste roles” to make sure the colony thrives and together, they can strip and entire tree of its leaves in just one day.

    Although they destroy vegetation, leaf-cutter ants are vital to maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. By clipping foliage, leaf-cutter ants stimulate new plant growth and by producing fungi in their colonies underground, they enrich the soil. As plant matter is broken down and nutrients is added to the soil, new, healthy roots and vegetation begin to grow.

    Leaf-Cutter Ants in the Wild

    Habitat

    Tropical and deciduous forests as well as scrublands 

    Location

    Leaf-cutter ants are commonly found in Central and South America, Mexico and parts of the southern United States.

    Diet

    Leaf-cutter ants mainly consume the orange fungus they produce by chewing, not eating, leaves inside their colony, but they also feed on plant sap and nectar as well.

    Population Status

    Although no classification for leaf-cutter ants has been provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it is believed that increased deforestation will eventually hinder their habitat sustainability.