Insects & Agriculture (Part I)

Agriculture has been an integral part of almost every thriving civilization. The Egyptians were the first to begin practicing agriculture, with the residents of India and China following shortly after. With the creation of agriculture came the assurance that food was no longer a major concern. However, humans were not the first to start this practice.

A category of ants commonly known as leaf-cutter ants have their own special farms composed of Lepiotaceae fungus. Most people believe that these ants carry away leaves in order to consume them. That is most certainly not the case, as these leaves are for the fungus which, in turn, are eaten by the ants. In order for these ants to found new colonies, however, they must have these fungi to expand.

When a new queen ant is born, it takes a piece of the fungal garden to wherever it decides to start the nest. This little piece is used to not only feed the queen, but also the first batch of worker ants.

An Ant Army

There is no ant species that is as voracious as the infamous army ant. They are typically identified by their curved mandibles, which are able to easily cut through flesh. With colony sizes exceeding 200,000 ants, a foraging line can span about 20 meters wide and over 100 meters in length, covering a huge area in which all moving organisms will be viciously torn apart and brought back to the nest. The army ant nest, however, isn’t a series of tunnels in the ground that most people are used to.

An army ant nest is actually made up of ants. The ants lightly, yet firmly, bite the appendages of their fellow comrades in order to create a cone-like structure, with the queen and brood safely tucked away inside. Whenever the surrounding area has been exhausted of animals to consume, the entire nest begins to stir, with the queen following shortly after the brood has left. When a desirable nesting ground has been selected, the army ants immediately begin to reform the nest. To keep up with the growing hunger of the population, the queen must produce up to 3-4 million eggs a month, which is much higher than other ant species. This technique is also used to bridge gaps on the jungle floor, allowing friendly ants to continue the foraging path.