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Panama Leaf cutter ants adapt well to city life

Leaf cutter ants strip bush.

One recent morning we noticed leaf cutter ants on this croton bush outside our Panama City office, which at the time was a pretty sight, covered as it was with large yellow leaves. The following afternoon, this was all that was left of the bush.

Leaf cutter ants don't actually eat the foliage that they strip off the plants they attack. Instead, they carry bits of leaves to large underground chambers in their nests, where they are used as the growth medium upon which fungi that are the basis of the ants' diet are raised.

Leaf cutter ants are well nigh ubiquitous in Panama, and can make serious garden and agricultural pests of themselves. Even more noxious are the chemicals that have been used, generally without much effect in the long run, to kill the things. The more modern and benign control method is to sow various plants that the ants will strip and bring down into their nests, and which then kill either the fungi or the ants themselves.

(Do you have a seasonal query? Yes, leaf cutter ants will strip a Christmas tree too.)

- by Eric Jackson of the Panama News (Vol 9, Issue 24)

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