Leaf Cutter Ant

COMMON NAME: Leaf Cutter Ant 

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Atta cephalotes

TYPE: Insect

DIET: Fungus (Leucocoprineae) 



SIZE: Males can reach up to 18 mm whiles females can vary between 2-14mm

WEIGHT: 1-1.5 grams


Leaf-Cutter Ants are dark red in color. In addition to the standard ant anatomy, the back of the thorax has three pairs of teeth, or spines which help them maneuver material, such as leaf fragments, on their backs. Size varies by caste within each colony: the smallest are merely 0.7 mm wide (head size) and the largest up to 5 mm wide, with the foragers typically about 2.0-2.2 mm wide.

Atta ants are often considered agricultural pests. However, they help maintain ecosystem health by aerating soil. They provide crucial nutrient redistribution in the forest through their discarding of spent fungus and their removal of their own waste material. The ants are also a valued source of protein for other forest animals.

Leaf Cutter Ants subscribe to a caste system, where ants carry out specific jobs based on the size of their head. Ants with a head size of 1.6-5.0 mm work as foragers, cutting vegetation, and carrying it back to the nest site. This is usually done in an assembly line leading back to the fungus garden. Smaller ants work as gardeners, with head widths of 0.7-1.0 mm. The larger 'gardeners' receive cuttings and clip them into fragments 1.0-2.0 mm across. Next, smaller gardener ants come along and crush and mold the fragments into moist pellets, add fecal droplets, and insert them into a mass of similar material. Then even smaller workers pluck loose strands of fungus from places of dense growth and plant them on the newly constructed surfaces. Finally, the smallest ants patrol the garden. They pluck out spores and hyphae of foreign species of mold.

Information on Leaf Cutter Ants is courtesy of the Oakland Zoo