I’m sure most have heard the saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” For one ant colony at the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid this proves to be true. Located in the browse boxes of the Rainforest, one in the canopy level and the other towards the exhibit’s exit, resides the largest Leaf Cutter Ant (Atta Cephalotes) colony in Texas. Hailing from various tropical paradises in Central and South America, Leaf Cutter Ants are responsible for 20% of all plant consumption in the rainforests.
Consisting of hundreds of thousands female ants, work duties are based on a caste system. Within this pure feminist society are four different types of ants whose sole purpose is to care for and protect the queen. Soldiers, normally the largest of the ants defend the nest from intruders. Cutters are the worker ants that spend their time cutting leaves and returning them to the nest. Guards are the first line of defense and attack anything that may pose a threat. Minims, the smallest of the workers play a vital role in maintaining the colony as they are the caretakers of the fungal garden as well as the queen.
From the time we exit our mother’s womb, we are groomed to be self-sufficient individuals in order to one day run our own successful households. This isn’t too far-fetched for Leaf Cutter Ants. When a virgin queen leaves her mother’s nest, she will mate with multiple males during “nuptial flight.” During this process the males will die off and she will collect the sperm she needs in order to begin her own colony. She will then dig a tunnel and burrow herself into a chamber known as a “fungal garden.” For a few years, she will nourish the fungus brought from her mother’s colony in order to begin her own. Queens can live anywhere from 15-20 years of age. Upon her death the entire colony dies out with her.
The Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens offers a huge variety of plant life to offer the colony as the ants cut daily. Be sure to stop by and get your own glimpse of these amazing creatures in action!