Leaf Cutting Ants...
These ants are farmers and grow a fungus for food. They are found in Central and South America and in most of their range they exact a huge economic toll on the countries in which they occur by damaging agricultural crops. They construct large nests in the ground and forage in the vicinity for food that they cut into disks and carry back to their nest. This leaf material is not eaten but used rather like a compost, in the construction of their large sponge-like "gardens". These, fertilised with faecal matter are seeded with a symbiotic fungus which in time produces "fruiting bodies" (like miniature mushrooms packed with nutrients) which the ants feed on, so producing the ants own food factory.
Their complex social organisation and extraordinary productivity make them most remarkable creatures and a large colony would occupy the size of a tennis court excavated to a depth of a two storey house containing over 6,000,000 ants!.
Whilst watching them, you may notice three different sizes of ant: there are the workers seen carrying the leaves back to the nest, smaller than these are ants that tend the fungus garden and if you are lucky you may spot some soldier ants which are about 3cm in size and fearsome looking. They patrol the nest and foraging areas. The queen is bigger still but does not leave the nest during her 10 to 12 years of life where she has the ability to lay 200,000,000 eggs!
Our ants have recently moved to their new home in there own specially designed ANT ROOM and we have extended the trial to almost double what it was. As time goes by and the number of ants increase we will move the feeding table further and further away, connecting it with the nest using a series of rope bridges until the ants are travelling up to 30 metres or more from their nest.
They are fed a variety of leaf matter but are also fond of fruit cake, cooked chicken and ham, rice crispies and believe it or not used tea bags.