Montshire Profile

Leafcutter Ants, July 2014

Current Location
The leafcutter ant colony is located in the Museum's second-floor gallery.

When did the Leafcutter ant exhibit open?
The first queen ant and her colony came to the Montshire in 1984 from Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean. Then in 1998, the queen died and her colony declined, so a second queen and her colony were brought in and are still thriving today.

Why did the Montshire create this exhibit?
The Montshire created this exhibit because other than humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth.

What is the Leafcutter Ant colony?
This species of ant, native to Central and South America, grows its own food in huge underground nests. The ants cut leaves into a manageable size and carry the pieces to their nest. There they chew them into a paste, which they then feed to a fungus. The ants, who are "insect fungus farmers," then eat the fungus. At the Montshire, we have a camera that gives you a magnified view of the ants as they cut leaves. There are also transparent tubes through which they carry the leaf pieces to their fungus gardens. All of the ants you see in the exhibit, from tiny "gardeners" in the fungus gardens, to the huge-jawed soldiers, are females. The queen ant is the mother of them all. When she dies, the entire colony will eventually die.

Did you know?
Several times a day, you can help provide the colony with its supply of leaves and get a close look at these amazing insects. Watch ants cut and carry the leaves, and on occasion you may even see the queen, who sometimes makes a public appearance.

In the wild, each female mates with multiple males to collect the 300 million sperm she needs to set up a colony. The sperm survive inside her for up to 20 years! The success rate of young queens is very low though, and less than 3% will establish a long-lived colony.

Have you tried this?
Try to find the queen ant. She is about the size of a bumblebee. The last time she was seen was June 18, 2014. She is most often visible in the summer. An explainer will be able to help you locate her. You can also look for the pupae (eggs are too small to see) and for mites that sometimes live in the colony. Let us know if you discover anything interesting and post it on Montshire's Facebook page.