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Leafcutter Ants (Atta spp.)

Detailing the identifying qualities of the Leafcutter Ants, including physical features and territorial reach.

 Updated: 1/4/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Leafcutter Ants  
Picture of Leafcutter-Ants

Hard-working Leafcutter Ants work as a team, taking shade under their umbrellas of foliage.

Leafcutter Ants are typically found in tropical regions of Central America, however, some species reach into North America as far north as the American Southwest. The lack of humidity in that area is not a problem for these genera that thrive in hot weather. They live in large colonies underground and can be seen trekking across branches, tree trunks and on the ground, carrying large pieces of leaves back home. The individual ant chews a portion of leaf that it can carry, often more than three times larger than itself. It hoists the leaf above its head using its jaws. The leaf tends to cast shade onto the ant carrying it, like a tiny umbrella, rendering the nickname "parasol ants". It races back to the colony to deliver its offering. The leaf will be chewed into a pulpy mass that makes a perfect breeding ground for a particular fungus that the ants eat. The fresh leaf matter is necessary to sustain the fungal diet.

Colonies can contain up to 2 million worker ants. Workers do not sting, but they can bite. Colonies have multiple points of entry/exit and inhabitants care for multiple queens. A large colony can span over 20,000 sq feet (2,000 sq meters) underground. On the hottest days of the year, most harvesting work may be done at night, but daytime activity is normal for all species. To see video of these productive creatures, click below:

Leafcutter Ants Information

Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Common Name: Leafcutter Ants
Scientific Name: Atta spp.
Other Name(s): Parasol Ants, Town Ants, Fungus Ants

Taxonomy Hierarchy

 Arrow graphic Kingdom: Animalia
  Arrow graphic Phylum: Arthropoda
   Arrow graphic Class: Insecta
    Arrow graphic Order: Hymenoptera
     Arrow graphic Family: Formicidae
      Arrow graphic Genus: Atta
       Arrow graphic Species: spp.

Size, Identifying Tags and Territorial Reach

Size (Adult, Length): Size (Adult, Length): 2 mm to 13 mm (0.078 inches to 0.507 inches)
Identifying Colors: red, brown
Additional Descriptors: fast, carry, cluster, numerous

North American Territorial Reach (Though Not Limited To): Arizona; Louisiana; New Mexico; Texas; Mexico

A Note About Territorial Reach: Keep in mind that an insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above. Insects are driven by environmental factors, food supplies and mating patterns and do not nescessarily work within hard-and-fast territorial lines like we humans do.

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