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Leafcutter Ants (Atta spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Leafcutter Ants

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

Updated: 01/04/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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 off 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.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Fast insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

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

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Atta spp.
Other Name(s): Parasol Ants, Town Ants, Fungus Ants
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 2mm to 13mm (0.07" to 0.51")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: red; brown
Descriptors: fast; carry; cluster; numerous

Leafcutter-Ants Video(s)

Traffic congestion as experienced by Leafcutter Ants.

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 2mm (0.1in) and 13mm (0.5in)
Lo: 2mm
Md: 7.5mm
Hi: 13mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Leafcutter Ants may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Leafcutter Ants. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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