Author, Amy Treonis, Department of Biology, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA
Leaf cutter ants are unmissable denizens of the rainforest, and a visit to BFREE is not complete without spending some time observing their activities. Leaf cutter ants live in complex, agrarian societies. They harvest leaves, bring them back to their underground nests, which can host millions of ants, and feed the leaves to a cultivated, specialized fungus. The ants feed on the swollen tips of fungal hyphae, called gonglydia. The fungi live in obligate mutualism with the ants. Bacteria are also cultivated on the ants that produce antibiotics that help that keep foreign microbes out of the fungus culture.