Leafcutter ants use tiny prehensile “toes” to tear up leaves for their fungus farms

Leafcutter ants use tiny prehensile “toes” to tear up leaves for their fungus farms


Leaf cutter ants farm and eat fungus in
underground nests. Their colonies harvest around 150 kilograms of plant
matter every year to feed their fungus crop. To understand how the ants turn
leaves into so much fungus food scientists filmed their behavior in the
lab. They found that leaf cutter ants have prehensile leg tips which they used to delicately grasp and manipulate leaves as they cut them into tiny
fragments. These dexterous tips are more flexible than non-prehensile ones– allowing a precision grip. The team calculated that the ants must
cut nearly three kilometers of leaf edge to process one square meter of plant matter–
putting leaf cutter ants near the limit of their energy budget. But the ants
minimize their work by choosing smaller leaves. and feeding them to the fungus as fragments rather than pulp. The ants prehensile leg tips help them
harvest food for their fungus crop more efficiently, giving them one leg up in
getting fungus from farm to table.

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