About Those Ants....

Ants play a very important role in ecosystems almost everywhere (not in the arctic and antarctic...). They are valuable as recyclers and pollinators. They add "entropy" to the universe! This means that they add randomness - they help disperse things, to avoid too much order!

These army ants (the small black dots) swarm through the rainforest, covering large areas of the forest floor. They clean the forest floor of dead and dying insects and larger animals, but pose no serious threat to large mammals, reptiles, and birds.





In fact, a number of different birds - the "ant birds" - follow the swarms of army ants, swooping down and eating larger insects and small reptiles stirred from their hiding places by the swarm.

In an incredible example of symbiosis - different species working together for their mutual good - this acacia tree produces small yellow protein buds on the tips of its leaves, which are the perfect food for one specie of ants. These ants even live in the holes in the large thorns of this tree!



In return, as seen in this photo, the ants will swarm out and protect their tree against any intruder, be it a person, a grazing cow, a hungry caterpillar, or a wandering vine.


Leafcutter ants make their way through their cleared trails to bring their prize (often many times bigger than they) back to their nest - which may be 20 feet across! But leafcutter ants do not eat the leaves they bring back!

Leafcutter ants.

Leafcutter.

This is the edge of a very large nest in Costa Rica. In tunnels underneath they make a huge mound of chewed leaves, upon which grows a special fungus - which grows no where else in the world! The ants harvest and eat this fungus.


In this mutual relationship of dependency, or symbiosis, when a new queen leaves the nest to start her own colony, she must take a culture of the fungus with her. If it dies, the new colony dies as well.

Leafcutter ants.

One study of insect species in one single rainforest tree revealed over 100 different species of ants! This is more than in many countries!