Saturday, February 12, 2011

A very conspicuous feature of the jungle were the ant trails. Brilliant for birding as they attract insectivorous birds and amazing wildlife events in their own right. The Leafcutter Ants were amazing! They form the largest and most complex societies on earth (after us, and to be honest they seemed much more organised than the Costa Rican road system). Nests can be up to 800 square metres and contain 8 million ants!

video
Leafcutter Ants in action. We particularly like the one that's bit off a bit more than it can carry (c) Richard Brown

The trails disappeared into the treetops where the ants were harvesting the juiciest of leaves and little flowers. They then traveled along cleared pathways and took their harvest back to their nests. But the vegetation was not to eat! They grind it down and use it as a fertiliser in their own Fungus Gardens. They then feed the fungus to their larvae. The fungus is specific to the species of ant and needs the ant to tend to its needs if it is to survive.

But how do new colonies form if they need the fungus? The queen setting off to start a new colony takes some in a pocket. In her mouth!

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