I was recently at Chester Zoo in the Spirit of the Jaguar Enclosure. The enclosure is designed for the Jaguar’s, as such you don’t always get to see them. But you will see the Leafcutter Ants which have their own enclosure within the wider Jaguar house. I always find it fascinating to watch these animals as you see them carrying segments of leaves along the branch into their nest. After my latest visit I decided to see what I could find out about these ants.
Chester Zoo have a page dedicate to the Leafcutter Ants or Acromyrmex octospinosus if you use their Latin name, which provides an overview of the ants. But I wanted to look deeper, I wanted to know more about their hierarchy and how they work together. As there appears to be too much structure to what they are all doing for it to be random individuals. It is a team of ants working together for the common good.
I did some research and found this article on Wikipedia which I found very informative! Not only did I find out there are 41 species of Leafcutter Ants but it helped me understand their structure. Leafcutter Ants broadly have 4 castes (teams) who each focus on different areas and their key strengths for the common good of the colony. They have the Minims, the Minors, the Mediae and the Majors. Each of these different castes have different strengths. The Minims tend to the growing brood or care for the fungus gardens. The Minors are the first line of defense and continuously patrol the surrounding terrain and vigorously attack any enemies that threaten the foraging lines. The Mediae are the generalised foragers, who cut leaves and bring the leaf fragments back to the nest (the ones who enthrall visitors at Chester Zoo). And the Majors act as soldiers, defending the nest from intruders.
Each of these 4 castes have different skills sets and body structures which make them superb at their individual roles. However, the colony needs all of them to survive and indeed thrive. Likewise if the Minims and the Majors swapped roles the colony would suffer as these are roles neither of them are suited to. The colony has grown and adapted to their strengths and know what each caste can offer them.
What an excellent example of using different skills sets and strengths within a team to maximise their ability to work together. We could all learn a thing or two from these Leafcutter Ants.