Atta mexicana: Tending to the Coral Garden

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Leaf cutter ant fungus garden.

Atta mexicana: Tending to the Coral Garden

Photo by Brad Fiero
Website: Pima Community College

The underground fungus cultures of Atta leafcutter ants can grow up to the diameter of a man's head. As can be clearly seen in this remarkable photograph, numerous fissures and cracks allow the colony's tiniest workers to travel throughout its warm interior and harvest special nutritional bodies produced by the fungi called "gongylidia". These ants then distribute their bounty to the rest of the colony (although most of the harvested nutritional bodies are fed to the ant larvae).

This picture was taken in the Sonoran Arthropod Society, Inc.'s laboratory, a private not-for-profit environmental and science education institution located in Pima county, Arizona. SASI's Atta mexicana colony died recently in 2002 after entertaining and educating visitors to the center for over 13 years.

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