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About the life of leaf-cutting ants

Муравьи-листорезы известны своими необычными способностями. Давайте узнаем, какими?

When leaf-cutting ants first caught sight of scientists, they decided that insects collect pieces of leaves in order to hide them in an anthill and eat them there. In this case, even the mechanism of pruning and transporting leaves was fascinatingly interesting and already attracted the attention of a large number of specialists.

But then it turned out that this is only the beginning of a huge and complex process of processing and using leaves as raw material for a real farm. And so complex that a small ant-leaf cutter for a long time became a real sensation in science ...

General description of leaf-cutting ants

The leaf-cutting ants are not outwardly noticeable. They have a brown body of small size - from 5 to 20 mm, depending on the caste, - and long paws, especially characteristic for trees that often move through trees.

Муравьи-листорезы внешне ничем не примечательны, разве что довольно длинными лапками

По размеру муравьи-листорезы не слишком большие

It is interesting

In the anthill of leaf cutters there are 7 castes of these ants that perform 29 different functions.

A distinctive external feature of the ant-leaf cutter are the powerful hooked jaws with which it gnaws quite hard leaves of tropical trees.

Именно мощные челюсти позволяют этим муравьям отгрызать кусочки листьев

These jaws are present in all castes, including the uterus. To drive them you need powerful muscles, so the head of leaf cutters is also quite large.

The video shows how the leaf-cutting ants bite off a green leaf.

The difference in size between different castes of leaf-cutting ants is noteworthy. Those individuals who are engaged in an anthill care for eggs, farms and a uterus are small - only about 5-6 mm in length reaches their body. But their soldiers are huge. In comparison with the "home" caste, these are real tanks: they can exceed the length of working ants by 3-4 times, and by mass - several dozen times. Their womb is even larger and weighs at times 700 times more than the smallest members of the colony!

Солдаты у муравьев-листорезов очень крупные

It is interesting

Not every anthill of leaf cutters has its own soldiers. Such luxury can only be afforded by very powerful colonies, numbering more than half a million individuals: a smaller family simply can not support its defenders.

Uterus of all leaf cutters is very different from other individuals very powerful and large breasts. Before mating, it has wings, but after the summer it bites off to themselves and proceeds to form a new colony. And here the fun begins ...

Agricultural activity of leaf-cutting ants

Leaves need leaf-cutting ants not at all for immediate eating: these insects can not absorb hard plant fibers. Therefore, the leaves are carefully chewed by a special caste of ants, after which the mass mixed with saliva is stored in chambers in which a constant microclimate is maintained, and infected with a special fungus. It is this fungus that is a food for both adult ants and larvae.

На измельченных листьях маленькие грибоводы выращивают специальный гриб

It is not surprising that the leaf-cutting ants have another name: mushroom ants. At the same time, the ants themselves do not eat the fungal bodies of the fungus; only the mycelium, which sprawls in the thickness of the fodder mass and above it, is suitable for food. Fruit bodies - this is an extra waste of resources of mycelium, and their insects, caring for the farm, bite at the stage of tying.

On a note

The saliva of leaf-cutting ants contains several antibiotics that destroy parasitic fungi and bacteria that can destroy the main mycelium. But the ants and allied bacteria have special actinobacteria that suppress the development of the parasitic fungus on the mycelium.

In general, the ant and the fungus "found each other" long enough: today in the world there are almost 200 species of ants, one way or another growing mushrooms. Some ants grow mushrooms on dead insects and feces in an anthill, but these species are considered to be the most primitive. But leaf cutters have adapted to use as raw material for the farm the most affordable and easiest in processing plant material.

Муравьи-листорезы используют для своих ферм самый простой и доступный материал - листья

It is interesting

Ants-leaf cutters in their habitats are considered serious pests: a large anthill can literally barely shave a few trees in the district. Therefore, on farms in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil with the advent of leaf cutters are diligently struggling.

The construction of an anthill of small mushroom growers

Although the leaf-cutting ants are tied rigidly to trees, as sources of leaves, they build their anthills almost exclusively underground. It is quite simple to explain this: only under the earth's layer they are protected from temperature changes, which are very sensitive to fungi, and from excessive exposure to moisture.

Муравейники листорезов находятся под землей

The anthill itself in the vertical section is similar to a huge egg. In the very center of it, farthest from any dangerous factors, is a camera with a uterus. It is surrounded by incubators, in which eggs and larvae develop. All external cells are farms in which ants grow mushrooms. As some researchers note, the analogy with the egg here is not only imaginative, but also functional - in its center is the main reproductive organ, and on the periphery - food reserves.

В разрезе муравейник похож на яйцо со своим центром и множеством слоев

In the colony of leaf-cutting ants, up to several million individuals can live, and the entire anthill can have several meters in dimensions.

Some leaf cutters construct heaps, similar to those that are organized by our forest ants . But the heart of the anthill still remains underground.

It is interesting

Some kinds of leaf-cutting ants take garbage out of the anthill outside, while others store it in special garbage chambers.

In addition to human beings, leaf-cutting ants have only one serious enemy - one kind of nomadic ants that practically do not run out onto the surface, attacks leafstrap anthills and ravages them, eating both ants and their brood and mushrooms.

Reproduction of leaf-cutting ants

The leaf-cutting ants reproduce in a manner similar to other species. At some point in the life of an anthill , usually tied to the season of the year, worker ants feed larvae with the addition of special substances that stimulate the development of sex. Reproductive males and females have wings, and upon reaching their number in an anthill of a certain critical value, they fly out, swarm and mate.

It is interesting

In some species of leaf-cutting ants, worker ants can lay eggs in the event of uterine death. In some species of such eggs, males incapable of breeding, normal individuals leave. Rescue of such an anthill will be a beset by a fertilized female, seeking refuge. But the cases of such meetings are extremely rare. Polygynia - the presence of several queens in an anthill - leaf cutters is not peculiar.

At swarming, each female mates with several males to collect a sufficient amount of seed.

After the swarming, which usually lasts one day, males and females scatter in the neighborhood of the anthill. Males perish, and each female digs a hole 30 cm deep in a convenient location and starts laying eggs. Immediately she adds a few found and chewed leaves, which infects a piece of mycelium.

The female feeds the first larvae with trophic eggs laid by her and a new mycelium. She herself at this time does not eat and survives due to her fat reserves and gnawed wings. Within 40-60 days, the first working individuals are taken from her, who begin to perform all the "routine" operations for her.

Во время кормления первых личинок самка муравьев-листорезов выживает за счет поедания своих ранее отгрызенных крыльев

It is interesting

On the lower part of the head, the uterus has a special pocket in which it puts a piece of mycelium before leaving the parental anthill. It is this stock that will ensure the normal development of the farm in the future.

The larvae of leaf-cutting ants are not able to feed on their own, and adult ants feed them with fungal hyphae.

Despite the complexity of the social structure, the leaf-cutting ants, although with some difficulties, may well be contained in captivity. For example, you can see a large anthill in the Moscow Zoo's insectarium, where the leaves of birch and roses are specially frozen for the ants for the winter. And many amateurs manage to successfully grow leaf-cutting ants at home. In general, the leaf-cutting ants are exclusively inhabitants of the tropics of South America and several Caribbean islands. To a moderate climate, their relatives have not yet been able to adapt.

If you decide to fight the ants yourself, then we recommend using only proven in practice tools that have shown their high efficiency:

To the record "About the life of ants-leaf cutters" left 4 comments.
  1. Irina Vitalevna :

    It was very interesting to read that tiny ants, it turns out, are able to grow mushrooms! And in general, your site is very informative, when I came here for the first time, it just lost the gift of speech)) Very nice colors, beautiful pictures and all information is clearly and easily accessible.

  2. Sanya :

    I went in for the first time, read the title - and I had to read the article uninterruptedly. Cognitive though)

  3. Guest :

    And I liked the article.

  4. Lisa :

    Very interesting! First time and delighted! Thank you.

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