Leafcutter Ants, the Fungal Farmers
Biology 342 Fall 2014
We humans frequently like to speak of the invention of agriculture as one of the major steps in our cultural evolution. What many of us do not realize is that we were by no means the first organism on this planet to exploit the benefits that can be obtained through the cultivation of food sources. Attine ants have been cultivating fungus for approximately 50 million years before humans (Diamond 1998). There are 45 different species of leafcutter ants, which belong within the larger attine genera of ants consisting of at least 230 species. These ants use the plant matter they gather to cultivate fungal gardens which they feed upon. What is unique about the leafcutter ants is their use of foraging for fresh leaves to further cultivate their mutualist relationship with their fungal gardens (Licht, et al. 2010).
Throughout this website we will explore various aspects of the agricultural behaviors of the leafcutter ants.