The Leafcutter ant has four different castes of workers, ranging in size from just 1mm to over 16mm. They have very long legs and are usually orange, red, brown, or black all over. Leafcutters have strong razor-like jaws with which they cut leaves.
Leafcutter ant Habitat and Food Source
Leafcutter ants are sure to be seen anywhere there is a considerable amount of leaves or grass. Go figure. Specifically this species is concentrated to the southern U.S. and Central and South America. Leafcutter ants are found mainly in tropical localities and usually build their nests in forests. Tropical and semi-tropical forests are the favorite habitat of a Leafcutter ant.
While the Leafcutter ant’s capability to carry extremely large loads is remarkable, its colony may be even more so. Mature Leafcutter mounds can be as big as 90 feet in diameter, 18 feet deep, and may even be interconnected with other mounds to cover over a thousand square feet. The mound of the Leafcutter has a crater-like opening for the ants to carry food in, but the actually colony resides in the soil underground. The entire colony may house millions of individuals. Where mounds are made near human habitations such as roads, gardens, and farmlands, this species can inflict a lot of damage. Additionally, these ants can do a lot of damage to gardens as they cut up and carry away leaves of plants.
Among ant species, the Leafcutter ant has a peculiar diet. Often seen in trails carrying pieces of leaves back to their nests, these ants are just what they sound like: very efficient leaf cutters. The ants don’t eat the leaves themselves, but use them instead to harvest fungi on which they feed. The Leafcutter can carry almost ten times its own weight worth of leaves into its underground nest where it is stored and turned into edible fungi.
Leafcutter Ant Life Cycle
Mating occurs when the winged queen ants fly away to start a new colony. Both queen and male Leafcutter ants “swarm” around entrances to other colonies until fertilization takes place. Once it does, the fertilized queen will make her own nest and lay her eggs. She may collect up to 300 million sperm in a single flight to start a new colony. This ant species has a low success rate among reproductive females, though, with less than three percent establishing a long-lived colony. Both the queen and male Leafcutter ants bear wings, but the female will shed her wings after mating and the male dies soon after.
Leafcutter Ants and Humans
The Leafcutter ant has been known to do a tremendous amount of damage to gardens and orchards, resulting in as much as a fifteen percent decrease in crop yields in certain plant species. They are not considered an indoor pest as they do not feed on human food, but are a big problem outside. Leafcutter ants forage during the night and colonies may feed off more than one garden. Leafcutter ants have been known to completely strip a small tree of its leaves in one night.
The Leafcutter ant doesn’t typically sting or bite but if threatened it may bite in defense. The Leafcutter ant is considered a very serious pest, and if left unchecked can grow to be a big problem for gardens. Nests are obtrusive and widespread, and the Leafcutter is capable of doing serious damage. Use of do-it-yourself pesticides may be all it takes to get rid of a small Leafcutter ant infestation, but if it has become too big of a problem for you to handle on your own, consider professional help.