Leaf-cutter ants returning to their nest.

Leaf-cutter ants returning to their nest.

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Credit: GEORGE BERNARD/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Leaf cutter ants, Atta cephalotes, carrying pieces of cut leaves back to their nest. These ants, which are found in tropical and sub-tropical America, build large underground nests. They gather leaf material and chew it up, forming a nutrient medium in the nest upon which grows a particular species of fungus. The ants harvest this fungus as food for themselves and their brood. A single colony can contain over a million workers. Each nest is founded by a female who, on her nuptial flight, carries a piece of fungus in her foregut. In the new nest site she fertilises it with her excrement, thus seeding the food supply for the future colony.

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Keywords: animal, ant, atta cephalotes, insect, insecta, invertebrate, invertebrates, leaf cutter, leafcutter ant, nature, wildlife, zoology

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