When I started doing my research for Leafcutter, I was intrigued; by the time I had finished, I was utterly absorbed by what I had discovered.
To begin with, the action of the ant in today's picture is the equivalent of a human being picking up a small family car.
This little forager is just one of a tireless army which carries pieces of leaf back to the ants' nest, or formicary, where they will be dropped into a fungus garden. Once the leaves have decomposed into fungal form, the leaf matter becomes food for the ants, as well as being a dormitory for them and a safe haven for their eggs and pupae.
From one perspective, the formicary is the ideal environment for a radical feminist, since the male ants have only one function, which is to mate with the Queen, and then they die! All of the ants within the formicary, including the soldiers, are female.
The formicary is self-sustaining. For example, if there is a need to find a new food source, some of the housekeepers simply become foragers.
Here is my final comment on the ants in Leafcutter:
"… leafcutter ants are special. They are worth fighting for. They have been on the earth for over 150 million years. Apart from human society, theirs is the most complex on the planet. They were the planet’s first farmers. They show us a world which sustains itself by the remarkable phenomenon of a collective brain. Individuals will sacrifice themselves for the safety of the colony. Many scientists now see the ant colonies as giant computers which can solve difficult problems; some big delivery companies already use Ant Colony Organisation to work out their most efficient delivery routes. The ants’ navigational skills are even helping us to launch space ships in new ways – it’s called slingshot technology!
However special we think we are, perhaps we should all pause from time to time and think what the leafcutter ants can teach us."
All images and texts are subject to copyright 2018