Leafcutter Ants, Up Close and Personal
– story and photos by Jane Moore of Papagayo Luxury –
Ever since moving to Costa Rica, we have been fascinated by the energetic and highly amusing antics of the leafcutter ants. Whenever we see their telltale path, we have to stop and see what they are transporting. Leaves? Flowers? Stalks? Many times there are what we call the “lazy ants” that are hitching a ride on the leaf while some poor worker ant hauls both leaf and hitchhiker back to the nest.
I recently found some willing models for a photo shoot, so you can see some of the details of their destruction, up close and personal. It is fun and fascinating to watch. They can decimate and defrock a plant within hours! While at Peninsula Papagayo, you will see the larger animals like monkeys and coatamundi, but don’t forget to look closely at the details around you!
Enjoy the photos! And there is more information about the purpose of the leaves at the end.
Leafcutter ants travel in long lines far into the forest, in search of leaves. They use their sharp jaws to cut leaves, stalks, and flowers from plants, and then carry the large pieces of leaves back to the nest (and can carry up to 10x their weight!). At their large underground nests, the leaves are chewed into a pulp. The decaying pulp is stored with ant feces and fungus spores, and strands of fungus eventually grow on the decomposing pulp. The ants do not eat the leaves. Rather, the ants eat the fungus crop that they meticulously cultivate.