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leaf cutter ants feed leaf bits to fungus

 
paul wheaton
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I just read this in acres usa

The ants don't eat the leaves.  "They feed them to fungus comprised of nitrogen fixing bacteria that they cultivate in underground gardens for their own nutrition." 

They are calling it a source of nitrogen in tropical ecosystems - but that seems a little off to me.  Didn't the nitrogen come from the leaf?  Maybe the N-fixing bacteria add a little more N to the N-heavy leaf?



 
Kirk Hutchison
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  The leaves probably have more in the way of sugars. In the tropics plants are stingy - a lot of the nutrients are probably locked away in the trunk. This way, the fungus gets energy and the ants get nutrients!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:
I just read this in [url=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000EGD2T6/rs12-20] fungus comprised of nitrogen fixing bacteria


?

Sounds like some kingdom confusion here.

I could see a symbiotic arrangement where the fungus supplies the cellulase enzymes, and the bacteria fix nitrogen. That's probably what they meant, but maybe the bacteria do all the digesting & fixing, and only look like fungus.

Great topic!
 
                            
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Leaf cutter/ Harvester ants are a major problem where I live in the Texas Tropics.
Some interesting info, their 'nests' are comprised of up to 3 miles of tunnels, radiating out from the main nest.  They are constructed horizontally and efforts to flood them out are useless.  I know of folks who have run a hose shoved into a hole for more than 24 hours and never had water come back out of the hole!  So far my best solution has been a combination of alternating DE and Orange oil.
The ag expert told me, the ants harvest the greenery, and feed it to an aphid that the ants then MILK for food. 
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Serenity wrote:The ag expert told me, the ants harvest the greenery, and feed it to an aphid that the ants then MILK for food.


That can't be right.

I know ants do this to living plants, but a severed leaf wouldn't have enough sap for that, and would stop producing sugar once brought underground.

Not that "a fungus comprised of...bacteria" makes much sense, either...
 
                            
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So I thought I'd do a quick search here are a couple of links if someone wants to know more.  One of the prominent points is that even amoung the "leaf Cutter" and Harvester Ants there are quite a number of sub species.  Also these particular species are apparently less studied than many others.
http://www.saguaro-juniper.com/i_and_i/insects/ants/sj-ants.html
http://www.photovault.com/Link/Orders/EntomologyInsects/Ants/Species/LeafCutterAnts.html

The last link the folks are concerned with preserving them, I am all about preservation however I must say these ants are voracious and can strip a tree in 1 yes ONE day!  That said I spend a lot of resources trying to create and sustain habitat for birds, butterflies, dragon/damsel flies and a range of other critters, and the harvester ants we have here are a serious threat to Our food supply and the trees and native plants we plant for the migratory critters.  They have completely decimated whole garden patches in a matter of a couple of days.

So what do others think of the issue of "pests" and perma-culture sustainability clashes?  Frankly I know the eco system works together, but I've had it trying to secure my food  and housing from  Termites, roaches, rodents, and ants, mosquitoes could go to!
 
Fred Morgan
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Sompopas (leaf cutters) do harvest the leaves and use them to culture fungus. They are very careful about what they will take into the hive too, which makes them more difficult to kill.

I do believe they are blind.

One of the neat things by the way you can do with sompopas is to use the guard ants to stitch up a wound. Because they are blind, you just put their pinchers on both sides of the wound, they will bite and hold one. Pinch off the head and it will stay pinched for about 24 hours.

Old indigenous trick.
 
                            
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That could be quite useful in an emergency, although having been bitten by them the wound would have to be really bad, the bites are fierce!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Hm...it might be less painful than stitches.

Wound care is an interesting experience; the pain of the wound might not be as much as the pain of caring for it, but still seems to make that pain a lot more bearable.

It might be interesting to start up this topic on the herbs forum...maybe bring up yarrow, ergot, alum, indigo...
 
                            
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Add yucca/ agave to that list too.  There is a version that is rather small and low to the ground, the smallish leaves have an excellent needle tip, that will pull strings from the leaf, (much like celery) the fiber strings are very strong and it is a common old school technique to use it to suture wounds.  Built in needle and thread.
 
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