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A case of leaf-cutting behavior in Trachymyrmex septentrionalis?

- by Dr. James C. Trager

Trachymyrmex septentrionalis is a "lesser" fungus-grower, which normally grows its fungus on caterpillar dung or fallen flower parts such as oak catkins or flower petals. In extreme circumstances, they will cut leaves.

When I was a grad student in Gainesville FL in the 1980s, the Hare Krishna organization bought a farm near Gainesville. I occasionally chatted with them while eating one of the inexpensive vegetarian lunches they used to serve on campus. One spring day they told me about little red ants that were cutting holes in the leaves of their baby apple trees.

So I visited the site, expecting fire ants, but enocuntering instead northern fungus growers. I was told that it had been a sparsely vegetated, sandy pasture the previous fall. The folks had disked (shallow-plowed) the whole pasture before planting the trees in February, destroying the ground-layer vegetation, but not deep enough to destroy ant nests. In spring the fungus growers emerged to find no plants or accompanying caterpillar dung. But, there were fresh new leaves on the apple saplings, and the ants actually climbed up and cut them.

This is the only record of this species cutting leaves that I know of.

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