Atta cephalotes: Hitchhiker

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Atta cephalotes hitchiker.

Atta cephalotes: Hitchhiker

Photo by Richard Seaman
Website: Richard Seaman website

One sometimes sees small hitchhicking leafcutters (minima) scampering around the leaves carried by their larger sisters. Various reasons for this behavior have been put forward, with the current popular thinking being that the small ants provide a protective function for the leaf carriers as well as cleaning the leaf fragments and preparing them for further processing inside the nest.

Leafcutter ants, and especially the larger individuals, are subject to attack from minute phorid and other flies. These insects alight upon unprotected ants and lay their eggs on them. The minima allegedly fend off these parasites by rearing up and threatening the intruders with their mandibles and raised forelegs.

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