Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The hike down Roraima

A tribute to the Leafcutter Ant

Quite often on our hike our path would be crossed by a dense trail of leafcutter ants. A species that is probably not of much interest to you when you grow up in a place where they thrive. But we found them quite fascinating, and sat and watched this colony for almost an hour. In short, the leafcutter ants collect the leaves from appropriate trees and bushes in order to return them to their large underground nest to ferment. The fermentation process produces a special fungus which the ants then feed on. This particular ant line extended for several hundred metres. As the wind wipped across the trail the leaves would act as sails, picking them up and hurling them along the ground. Once on their feet again they would carefully make their way back to the line and carry on until picked up again.

The small ant riding on top of the leaf in the photo above isn't as lazy as she may first appear. She in fact has a very important job of defending the leaf from a parasitic fly which attempts to lay its egg on the leaves while they are being carried back to the nest. If the eggs make it back to the nest undetected they will feed on the ants' food source.

The ants easily cut through leaves in under 10 seconds. We watched as this tree disapeared before our eyes. When Laura accidently got too close the ants showed her that their pinchers were equally good at cutting through toes.



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