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Leaf Cutter Ants at the Smithsonian's National Zoo Celebrate Valentine's Day!
Like any relationship, the key to a successful leaf-cutter ant colony is communication. The colony that "talks" to each other can conquer forces much larger than themselves. For example, army ant colonies in the American tropics range from half a million to a million animals. They attack their prey in massive "swarm raids," tearing apart tarantulas and scorpions. So, yeah, Happy Valentine's Day. Native to tropical and subtropical forests in the Americas, a leaf-cutter ant colony starts with a single female, a queen. Yet at its peak, the colony may consist of millions of ants that each take on one of more than 22 different jobs to keep the colony running seamlessly. There are foragers, soldiers, nurses, gardeners, and even trash collectors—all female. All those female ants start out as the same sort of egg. Yet the care each young ant receives in the nursery determines the job she will be charged with for her entire life. That job will set even the ant's basic morphology. A soldier will be large, with huge mandibles; a gardener will be tiny to fit in crevices. Scientists are still unsure how the colony knows which types of workers are needed to keep things running. Researchers do know that the ants send out pheromones and other chemical messages to "talk." Though its members work different jobs, the whole colony hums to a single goal: sustenance. That sustenance takes the form of a fungus found only in leaf-cutter ant colonies. Growing the fungus is the ants' livelihood. Leaf-cutter ants are the only animals, other than humans, that farm their own fresh vegetation extensively. Come visit our leaf-cutter ant colony in the Invertebrate Exhibit or learn more at #WeSaveSpecies Music in video by Zakali.
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16 sec
Zoology;Animals;Veterinary medicine;Animal health  Search this
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