Ants | At the Museum
Leafcutter ants (Atta cephalotes, or simply Attas) normally live
in Central and South America. Since 2001 one colony has thrived well
outside their normal range, at the Museum.
The ants require attention every day — sometimes twice a day when they are particularly busy. During the summer we give them Willow, Mulberry, Blackberry and Butterfly Bush; and in the winter mostly Pyracantha and Privet leaves collected from the Museum grounds. They don’t eat the leaves, but use them to grow the fungus that is their only food.
The ants live in a complex with six clear domes, two larger domes and an open area where we place their leaves. The ants grow fungus in one of the larger domes, use four domes for waste, and have left one dome empty.
Next time you visit the Museum see if you can identify the dome where ants are growing fungus, and which ones they use for waste. Try to identify the larger soldier ants, and the smaller forager ants. If you see an ant snipping off a piece of leaf and carrying it away, you have found foragers. Notice how much bigger the bits of leaf are than the ants — can you imagine carrying something that big? Look even closer now. Can you find any evidence that ants are carrying items other than leaves into the colony’s chambers? There is more to discover about these fascinating insects.