How do leafcutter ants cut leaves off of trees? #TeamTrees

How do leafcutter ants cut leaves off of trees? #TeamTrees


About 50 million years ago, a group of
ants started doing something that only three other types of animals, including
humans, ever have. They started growing their own food. And about 40 million years after that, some of these fungus-farming ants
started growing their underground fungus gardens by feeding them leaves that they
collected by doing this. Recently I was given this colony of leafcutter ants, Atta cephalotes, and these are some of the most interesting and,
actually, most well studied ants on earth. I don’t currently have any research
projects on these, but if there’s one thing I’m interested in, in science, it’s
fine scale details of animal behavior. So, i’ve been filming one tiny little aspect
of what they do throughout their lives and that’s how they actually cut leaves
off of trees. In a day a mature leafcutter ant nest can cut and gather
hundreds of thousands of leaf fragments. Once an ant finds a suitable leaf and begins cutting it can recruit its nestmates to the leaf with a vibrational signal. It makes this signal by rapidly raising and
lowering its abdomen while cutting the leaf. Sending vibrations through the jaws into
the leaf and down the stem to nearby nestmates. The ant does this by moving
its abdomen at this point here, scraping the series of microscopic grooves called
stridulatory organ and producing a series of chirps at a frequency of one
kilohertz. Leaf cutting isn’t the only time these ants stridulate though. What
you’re hearing now are recordings made during digging, which is another context
where stridulation also works as a short-range recruitment signal. During
leaf cutting these chirps vibrate the mandible while it cuts. By vibrating the
mandibles and by using the front foot to pull up on the leaf edge, cutting workers
actively stiffen the leaf so they can make a smooth, easy cut. Ants cut
semicircular wedges out of the leaves by anchoring their legs on the edges and
surface while rotating their bodies during cutting. Slicing through a leaf involves piercing
with a leading mandible and pulling a fixed cutting mandible through the leaf. Either mandible can function in either
role, slicing through the leaf or advancing the path of the cut. Watching
this happen from below, the cutting mandible slices and tears through the
leaf as the ant uses the bite of the other jaw to pull it along. All of this is powered by massive
muscles connecting to the jaws that account for 50% of the weight of the
head and 25% of the ant’s total body mass. All of this leaf cutting is just
the first step in feeding a living garden of fungus found inside the nest. A
garden that is continually grown over a decade or more of a colony’s life,
supporting one of the most advanced animal societies on earth. So, cutting
leaves off trees is a tiny little fraction of what these ants do. There’s
so many more details. I mean even before that leaf fragment is fed to the fungus
there’s another round of cutting and cleaning that happens inside the
nest. So this video has been all about ants that make their living from trees,
and trees are pretty important to us too. And you might already know that across
YouTube right now there’s a campaign called #teamtrees which is calling for
people to support forest restoration efforts by donating to the Arbor Day
Foundation. I think this is a great idea and a way we can all do something to
support healthy forest ecosystems across the world. So what I’m doing is I’m gonna
donate 100%, all of the lifetime ad revenue that’s ever been generated by
this channel. Which happens to be a hundred and seventy eight dollars. And
I’m gonna do that through teamtrees.org. I think it’s only appropriate to give
whatever this channel has made back to an organization that supports the natural
world. So I encourage you to go to teamtrees.org and make your donation
yourself today.

Leaf-cutter Ants – Science Nation

Leaf-cutter Ants – Science Nation


CAMERON CURRIE: Do you see the size of these
soldiers? Absolutely incredible. MILES O’BRIEN: With soldiers, workers,
even a specialized garbage crew, leafcutter ants maintain a complex society. CAMERON CURRIE: They have formed massive
colonies composed of, potentially, as many as five to ten million workers and they can defoliate
a mature eucalyptus tree overnight. Their mandibles, they’re serrated like a
steak knife to make the cutting more efficient. MILES O’BRIEN: These ants may be the planet’s
first farmers. They don’t eat these leaves. They use them to grow a fungus garden that becomes
both their food and living space. CAMERON CURRIE: Here, you can actually see a
really nice patch of chewed up leaf material that is going to be, eventually,
integrated in the fungus garden. MILES O’BRIEN: Theres a third player at this
symbiotic city; bacteria on the ant’s bodies that keep harmful microbes from
damaging the fungus. CAMERON CURRIE: She has this whitish coating
on her body that is the antibiotic-producing bacteria. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National
Science Foundation, Bacteriologist Cameron Currie studies these ant communities
to help create better drugs for humans. CAMERON CURRIE: These bacteria are related
to the bacteria that humans get antibiotics from. We’re discovering drugs from this system. MILES O’BRIEN: These ants are not only
farmers and pharmacists; they may help humans create cleaner energy. TIM DONOHUE: Leafcutter ants have been living
on a cellulose diet for millions of years. MILES O’BRIEN: Tim Donohue wants to know more
about how the ants break down plant cellulose. That process could help create renewable biofuels
from trees and other plants for our cars and trucks. TIM DONOHUE: So, they are a prime ecosystem
that can be unraveled and tapped and learned from. JOSEPH MOELLER: Up here is where we have the
foraging chamber. This is where we put in fresh leaf material. MILES O’BRIEN: A public display of leafcutters
is a hit on the University of Wisconsin campus, so is the ant cam. JOSEPH MOELLER: You can actually see some
leaf material here. And these here are the big fungal masses that
are being cultivated. MILES O’BRIEN: There’s a lot we can learn from
this tireless workforce. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

Flesh Ripping Ants?

Flesh Ripping Ants?


– I’m Coyote Peterson. Recently, I ran into a
species of ant with a bite so powerful, it’s capable of
breaking through human skin. If you don’t believe
me? Watch this. One (phew) Two, three Ouch (grunts) Ah. Ah! Yep, that might break it
through the skin there. Oh, like little razor blades. Ah! Yeah, he’s popping
holes into my finger. Ahhh! Oh, yeah, that hurts. He’s got me good right there. Ahhhhhh! Oww! Look he’s
banged his head in my finger. Argh! Ah! Ahhh! Ah ah ah Ooh! Yikes! Yeah, that hurt. (panicky wilderness music) – [Voiceover] All
right, Coyote, yikes. That leaf-cutter ant. That was something, but what
people at home might not know, is that was actually
not the first time you were bitten by
that ant, was it? – No, no it was not. Now when we arrived
at Costa Rico, we were told by all the locals
that when you’re out there looking for creatures,
whatever you do, make sure to avoid
leaf-cutter ants. I said to myself,
leaf-cutter ants? I didn’t even know you
had leaf-cutter ants. Do they bite? Sting? They
said, “No, no, no, no. They don’t sting.
They only bite. The bite is so powerful, it
can break through human skin.” Knowing me, first
thing I think is, “I gotta see if this
is really true.” So as we’re out there
walking through rain forests, we finally came across
a track of leaf-cutters. Found some workers,
found some soldiers. Mark said, “Okay,
here’s the ants. Let’s catch one, and
let’s do the scene.” So I picked up an
ant. You guys ready? – [Mark] I’m ready. Wait, wait. Where are you
gonna let him bite you? – Right there in
the crux of my hand. Hold up my hand like
this, put it right there, and let it start chomping,
and it’s chomping, and it’s chomping, but
it’s not breaking skin. Even with all that
power and that pinch… Ouch! That really, really hurts. I don’t think he’s gonna
be able to break skin. We’re thinking, okay.
It’s just a myth. Leaf-cutter ants can’t really
cut through human skin. Ah, there we go. – How’s that feel?
– [Coyote] Wow! Ah! Feels good to have
it off of my hand. Well, there ya go. Finally. An ant challenge where I’m
walking away mostly unscathed. Well, as we’re heading
back to our base camp, we come upon the nest. All right, well we
have found the nest. Watch your feet. Look at how many of
these monster-sized leaf-cutters are coming out. They are sending out
the troops right now. What you didn’t see
is me wandering into
the nest at first. Me, I’m like, holy cow,
these ants are everywhere. And just for fun, I
pick up another ant, put it on my finger, and boom! Immediately, it cuts
through the skin. Those things are monster! Ow! Ooh, yeah.
Ow! Bite me there. Oh, geez! Ah! Ah! Ah! That one definitely popped
right through the skin. Look at that. Holy cow. Fortunately, you’re
looking at it here. This is me holding up my finger, and you can see all
the blood running down. Now you didn’t see
this in the episode because we weren’t
ready to actually shoot the scene a second time. I didn’t think he was
gonna bite me that hard. The one that we were working
with through the scene didn’t. Break skin. Ah, an angry one is definitely
capable of breaking skin. What should we do? Should
we shoot that again? – [Mark] Think we have to. – Like right here. – [Mark] Yeah. Sigh. – Hehe. So, like a good director, Mark
says, “Cut, cut, cut, cut. Back to one. We gotta
shoot this scene again.” Now at this point,
I’m pretty nervous, because I’m thinking
to myself, oh, boy. That ant just massacred my
finger in one single chomp. Now he want to actually
put an ant on my finger, and let it do its thing. So, what you did see
is Mark, Mario, and I heading back into the nest, and this is where all the
ants were swarming out. Mark’s getting bitten.
Mario’s getting bitten. And finally, I get a
large, angry soldier. Come back into the
scene, sit down, put up my finger, and
place the ant right there, and it was painful. Now, I did last more
than 60 seconds, and I had to last
more than 60 seconds so that we could
get all the shots. Shooting these episodes
is pretty tough because there’s
multiple cameras going, and we have to make sure
we get the cool shots so that you guys can
enjoy the episode. In total, I was really chomped
by this leaf-cutter ant for probably about two
and a half minutes. Now that also includes,
once the video camera stopped rolling, and we
get out the still cameras to get that cool shot, you know
that’s the screen grab there on the YouTube video of
me like this, “Ahhhhhhh!” of an ant on my finger. A lot of pain to go through
just to get that single frame, but it was totally worth it because ultimately we
proved a myth to be true. The leaf-cutter ant is capable of chomping through human skin. I’m Coyote Peterson. Be brave. Stay wild. We’ll see ya next week. – Whoa whoa whoa. What
about the million subs? – Oh, yes! Sorry. I get so excited
about those ants. Coyota pack, we have made it to a million subscribers
on YouTube. How cool is that? ♪ Oh, yes ♪ Oh, yes ♪ Oh, yes ♪ Yes, yes, yes ♪ Now, on behalf of
myself and the entire B rave Wilderness team, I
just want to take a moment to thank each and
every one of you out there who’s
watching all our shows. We couldn’t do this without you. It’s you guys that keep
us out here in the field making these awesome adventures, and getting ya up
close with animals, whether it’s Breaking
Trail, Dragon Tails, Coyote’s Backyard
or a new series that’s about to come out
this summer, Beyond the Tide. Stay tuned for that. We couldn’t do it without
each and every one of you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being
such an awesome member of the Coyote Pack. All right. That’s it for me. We’ll see you guys next week. If you enjoyed this
behind-the-scenes look, make sure to go back and
watch the full ant attack, and don’t forget, subscribe
to join me and the crew on this season of
“Breaking Trail.” Oww! Ahh! (loud rumble) (coyote howling)

CRAZY ANT BITE!

CRAZY ANT BITE!


(deep dramatic music) – I’m Coyote Peterson. Those are leafcutter ants. And they bite,
really really hard. (sighs with exasperation) Here we go again. (pained yelling) Yeah, he’s popping
holes into my finger. OW! (rhythmic jungle music) (lion roars) Costa Rica is an outdoor
adventurer’s playground. And if you venture to
the Southwestern edge, you will find yourself
exploring the dense rainforest of the Osa Peninsula. A truly primitive paradise, that is home to one of the
most impressive creatures I have ever encountered. What you’re looking at here, this barren runway
that cuts right through the heart of the rainforest. It may look like a game trail, but believe it or not, this
was made by leafcutter ants. And as soon as the sun gets
a little higher in the sky, and the forest warms up, this is going to be swarming with those industrious
little insects. Leafcutter ants are
famous for being one of the most complex societies
in the animal kingdom. Building nests that are
over 100 feet across, and which can contain over
eight million individuals. What do these millions of
ants do all day, you wonder? Well, as their name
suggests, they cut leaves. Wow, look at that! At one point, this
was a complete leaf. And you can see where the
ants have intricately cut out little sections to
take back to the nest. Alright, well let’s keep
following the trails, and see if we can find
some of these ants. The trails can run for miles through the rainforest. And if you follow the ants
who are carrying the leaves, eventually you’ll be
led back to the nest. Not a place you’d ever
want to find yourself. Unless, of course, you were me. And you were looking
to challenge one of
the angry soldiers. Okay, so, we have
now located the nest. Wander back into there, and I will literally
be under attack. I have rolled up my pant
legs, as you can see. – [Voiceover] Great
look by the way – Yeah, no, this is
my classy jungle look. Alright, I’m gonna go get
myself an angry soldier. You guys ready? I have to do this quick. Alright, here we go, good? – [Voiceover] Yep. – Entering the zone surrounding
a nest of leafcutter ants is incredibly dangerous. And in a matter of
seconds, we were swarmed. Alright, I’m looking
for a huge one. We are under attack right now. Careful, yeah they get on you. Don’t let yourself get bit. – [Voiceover] Oh man, they’re
right out of this hole. – [Coyote] Alright,
I’m gonna grab one. – [Voiceover] Right
here, look at this. They’re just jumping
out of the hole. – [Coyote] Oh gosh, there’s
a huge one right there. Look at the size of that one. Got it, holy cow, ow! A little one bite me. – [Voiceover] Oh, I got
them crawling up my leg. Okay time to get out – [Coyote] Get out. Out out out. Abort abort. (pained grunts) – [Voiceover] Hang
on, oh jeeze, oh man. Ow, oh my gosh, they’re huge
and they’re all over me. – [Coyote] Good? – [Voiceover] Yeah, dude,
they swarmed me bad. Jeeze they come at you so fast. – [Coyote] Oh wait hang
on, you’ve got a huge one on the back of your leg. Yup, even Mark took some
bites to make this episode. Whoa, that is a big
soldier ant right there. This species of ant only
bites, it does not sting. Which is good news for me, so my hands aren’t going
to end up like they did after the fire ants. Now, size to body weight ratio, this is one of the strongest
animals on the planet. Now, I’m told that these
mandibles are so powerful, they can cut through skin. I know you guys are curious as to just how powerful
those mandibles are. So what I’m gonna do today, is get chomped by
the leafcutter ant. If threatened, a soldier
will attack any invader. No matter how big or small,
with incredible force. Using sheer like
mandibles, they will bite and tear the victim apart. Showing absolutely no mercy. I don’t really mind
getting bitten by things, it’s stings that
are usually worse. But, uh, I’m looking at those
mandibles, and I’m thinking This guy’s probably
gonna break skin. For my own safety, and
the safety of the crew, We have chosen to perform this
experiment with a single ant. This scene is
incredibly graphic, never attempt what
you’re about to witness under any circumstances. Get ready, there will be blood. Alright, I’m Coyote Peterson, and I’m about to
enter the strike zone, with the leafcutter ant. Here we go, ready? One. Two. Three. Ahh! (pained gasps) Yup, definitely breaking
through the skin there. Oh there’s like
little razor blades. I have an incredibly
high pain tolerance, so my goal was to
last 60 seconds, under the onslaught of bites. Can you see that? He’s popping holes
into my finger. Ow! These ants are intelligent, so
by moving from spot to spot, the ant was testing the
weakness of my flesh. Oh yeah, that hurts. He’s got me good right there. His mandibles cut through me, like a hot knife
slicing warm butter. And boy did it hurt. (grunts in pain) Oh man that hurts! Yup, definitely just
cut through the skin! Turn away if you are squeamish, this part is pretty crazy. Those little mandibles
are razor sharp. It is really tough to
just keep my hand still. And you can see the blood
is now starting to pour out. I could feel each
layer of skin cutting as the ant began to bury
it’s head into my finger. Ow, he’s burying his
head into my finger! The seconds seemed to
draw out like minutes, as beads of sweat
poured down my face. (pained grunts) Finally the ant decided I
wasn’t going to give in, and as it removed it’s mandibles
from the hole in my finger the challenge was
decidedly over. I had lasted over sixty seconds, in the jaws of a leaf cutter. Okay, I gotta take him off. – [Voiceover] Ooh, ew. – Gross. And my blood is already
starting to coagulate. But look at that. Holy cow, that is one
powerful little insect. My finger is
throbbing right now. And in my quest to find
the most powerful ant bite, and sting, I would
have to say that the leafcutter ant,
without question, is capable of slicing
through human skin. And on the ant power scale, I’m gonna rank this little
insect, as an eight. I can’t even imagine how bad
the bullet ant is gonna be. I’m Coyote Peterson. Be brave, stay wild. We’ll see ya on
the next adventure. Whoa that hurts! Like all ants, the leafcutter
only attacks if threatened. And I’m sure you were thinking, “Coyote, are you taking these
ant challenges too far?” “Look at your finger, it
looks like a horror film.” To be honest, I had
no idea a single ant could do this much damage. (slow pained groans) So the moral of the story is, if you’re ever in Costa Rica, pay attention to
your surroundings. He’s popping holes
into my finger. Because the last place
you want to find yourself, is in a swarm of angry soldiers. If you thought this ant
challenge was extreme, make sure and go back and watch my painful encounter with
a mound of fire ants. And don’t forget, subscribe to join me and the
crew on this season of, Breaking Trail. (rumble) (birds chirping)