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How do leafcutter ants cut leaves off of trees?

How do leafcutter ants cut leaves? And why do they do it? In this Ant Lab video, a fundraiser for the Team Trees YouTube creator group effort to plant 20 million trees with the Arbor Day Foundation, Dr. Adrian Smith shares time-lapse footage of his colony of Atta cephalotes as they cut and gather semi-circles of leaf clippings.

leafcutter ant
leafcutter mandible
See up close as they bite pieces and take them away for planting. As the San Diego Zoo explains, “These tiny mighty movers eat a very special kind of fungus. They grow the fungus in special sections of their underground nests. The fungus needs decaying plant material to grow, so down those leaf bits go!”

leafcutter farming fungus
Atta species are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems in northern South America, Central America, and Northern Texas. Some details from Britannica:

Leafcutter ants profoundly affect their surroundings. By pruning vegetation, they stimulate new plant growth, and, by gardening their fungal food, they enrich the soil. Excavating nests that may occupy 23 cubic metres (800 cubic feet), a colony of A. sexdens leafcutters may turn over 40,000 kg (88,000 pounds) of soil in tropical moist forests, stimulating root growth of many plant species. In New World tropical rainforests, the large nests of these ants are often found among large trees that are spaced far apart with little undergrowth—a parklike setting created by the ants themselves. Many Atta species clear ant “highways” radiating out from the nest, along which wide columns of their kind can march unhindered.

Related watching: Houston’s Leafcutter Ant Cam.

Plus, watch more ant videos and more videos about leafcutter ants, including this one from Deep Look.

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