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Leafcutter Ants carry messages in the Amazon Rainforest

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Follow a formidable trail of leafcutter ants through the Amazon Rainforest. They’re carrying lots of small leaf pieces, having gathered them from high up in a tree before descending to the forest floor and journeying along an ant-made forest trail.

In this episode of The Jungle Diaries, biologist and explorer Phil Torres tracks these tiny creatures from just one of their gathering trees to their massive anthill. There he reveals more about why these ants are on a mission.

“Leafcutter ants sure do cut leaves but they don’t eat leaves. Actually, what they are doing is they are farming. There is a giant fungus underground that, with a colony this big, who knows, could be the size of a car. And that fungus eats leaves and these ants eat that fungus.

“Now, that fungus needs a very specific set of nutrients to grow: It needs different minerals, it needs different proteins, it needs nitrogen, all these different things that the ants somehow have evolved to figure out when that fungus is sick, what it needs.”

watching leaf cutter ants
leafcutter ants

“And that means that each time they go out, they will go to a different tree because sometimes one tree has too much of this or too little of that. So they’ll kind of balance amongst all the trees, which actually works out in the trees’ benefit out here because if leafcutter ants liked only one particular type of tree, I’m pretty sure that tree would be cut bare by the end of a single day.”

He also leverages their natural instincts to carry a few messages along their trail. Why would they carry these tiny bits of paper? Traces of salt. Torres explains in the video.


Watch these related ant and rainforest videos next:
• Why do Leafcutter Ants cut leaves and carry them away?
• How do leafcutter ants cut leaves off of trees?
• How can weaver ants protect an entire orchard?
• How do weaver ants stitch their leaf nests together?
• Why 10 Daily Tons of Ant Poop Keep This Rainforest Thriving

Also from Phil Torres: Butterflies mud-puddling in the Amazon and Tracking hungry Alaskan grizzly bears.

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