Anyone who has traveled through the Americas knows them anyway, a stream of ants all carrying leaves with them. It looks like a mini highway that can go on for 30 meters. We’re talking about leaf-cutter ants of course. For tourists a source of amazement, for local farmers and vegetable gardeners a real plague that just eats your beloved trees and plants bare. By the way, did you know that there are 47 different species of leaf-cutter ants?
Many people think the ants cut off the leaves to eat for themselves, but nothing could be further from the truth. The ants cut off the leaves and transport them to a fungus in their nest. A partnership with quite a history, it turns out.
From survivor to farmer
But how does that fungus work and how did ants ever get there? According to genetic research, Attini ants began farming about 50 million years ago. Just for comparison, as humans we only started farming about 12,000 years ago. All 250 species of Attini ants known in the world breed fungi. Among the leaf-cutter ants the fungus is completely domesticated, not found outside the nests and completely dependent on the good care of the ants. Just as you shouldn’t let most dairy cows or lap dogs loose in a wild landscape anymore either.
Ants started farming at the same time that dinosaurs went extinct. When with the extinction of all kinds of plants, food was no longer so readily available, they switched to keeping fungi. Afterall,thosedidliketheconditionsatthetime.So it was a smart move by the ants to switch to fungi as a food source. Meanwhile, the ants have physically evolved to the point where they can no longer live without the fungi.
Taking care of your food
When you look at a colony of ants, you quickly see that there are ants of all different sizes. The largest ants are the scouts, searching for suitable flowers and leaves, the middle ants use their powerful jaws to cut off and transport pieces of leaves. Their mandibles vibrate up to 1,000 times per second for this purpose, so they are as effective as a chainsaw. Over time, the mandibles wear out and at this point the ants change their job and become leaf carriers. The smallest ants chew the leaves into a mush that the fungus can digest. In addition, the smallest ants also nurse the fungus. The largest ants can weigh hundreds of times as much as the smallest ones. In addition, of course, there are many other roles such as queen, soldiers, waste pickers, leaf inspectors, pest control, etc.
As soon as a young queen starts her own colony, she takes a piece of the fungus from her old nest into her oral cavity. But it is difficult as a new queen to build a kingdom. Many try, few succeed!
It’s a powerful thing they do, those leaf-cutting ants. In one night, they can strip an entire tree of its leaves. Moreover, they can carry 10 to 50 times their own weight with their jaws. To put this into perspective, this is like trying to carry an adult grizzly bear between your teeth. Although that one probably does struggle a bit more.
What’s with the fur? Why do sloths sleep so much? This month, the three-fingered sloth is the animal of the month at Adopt Rainforest. And what’s more fun than hearing from one of the founders of Adopt Rainforest some fun facts that you won’t find in a standard biology book. Maarten van der Beek is one of the biologists at Adopt Rainforest and lives on the Work With Nature reserve in Costa Rica. (more…)
In recent years we have already seen many rare and unusual animals in our reserve such as the Northern Nacked-tailed Armadillo, Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle and several felines. However, what we recently encountered is many times more interesting to scientists. In 1989, Epigomphus houghtoni, the Limon Knobtail, a dragonfly species was described by Stephen Brooks based on […]
My youngest daughter Iris is studying Applied Biology in Den Bosch. I visited her at her internship site in Costa Rica, where she stayed for 5 months. I am writing a piece about this because in addition to visiting my daughter, I had the opportunity to provide first aid training for the foundation’s staff and […]
It’s World Rainforest Day today (June 22)! A day to put our world’s rainforests in the spotlight because it’s mega important to protect them. Do you know which are the largest rainforests in the world? In this blog we will show them to you. We start at spot 10. (more…)
Despite uncertain economic times and the impact of Corona, the Foundation has some fantastic news to report. Over the past few months, we had to pull out all the stops and negotiate hard to acquire an important piece of land. And we succeeded! We were able to expand the reserve by 65 hectares, or 650,000 square meters!
Costa Rica, a country of which almost half is rainforest, is a true birding paradise. More than 900 species of birds can be found here. One of the most beautiful and special birds that has its habitat in Costa Rica, however, is the Resplendent Quetzal. A good reason to go bird watching in Costa Rica!
More than 11 years ago, the founders of the Adopt Rainforest foundation visited this beautiful area for the first time. What a beautiful area with giant big trees, several rivers and an enormous biodiversity of plants and animals. Yet there was something they both noticed immediately. There were no monkeys at all. (more…)
When a butterfly flies by, most people do stop for a moment to follow it with their eyes. They often have beautiful colors and the large soft wings compared to the small body make them look almost cuddly. In Costa Rica there are more than 1200 species of butterflies and of course we are very curious about the species that occur in the reservation of Adopt Rainforest.
And then there you are, atop a hilltop, having a good cry. Or frantically trying not to let your fellow volunteer see how touched you are. My name is Zoë, I live near Hasselt in Belgium. I am an adult education teacher, and enthusiastic but very novice when it comes to nature. I would like to tell you about my wonderful experiences as a volunteer in the reserve of Adopt Rainforest.
This beautiful blue butterfly, measuring up to 15-20 cm, seems to appear and disappear with every flick of its wings. In fact, its underside is a clever trick of Mother Nature. On the underside, it is inconspicuous reddish-brown, with eyes to deter attackers. The bright iridescent blue, in turn, is to deter competition and attract females.
What is deforestation anyway? This term is used to describe the process by which trees give way to agriculture and livestock. Deforestation takes place in large numbers every day, especially in the Amazon rainforest. Not a pretty thing! The consequences? Cutting down trees not only means loss of our beautiful nature and biodiversity. It has an effect on the ambient temperature: it rises. This increase is caused by burning trees and because oxygen (O2) gives way to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Trees store a lot of CO2 and this is released during deforestation. The numbers? Don’t be alarmed: around 13 million hectares of forest disappear on Earth every year, according to the FAO. To make it a little more tangible: this equals 18,207,280 football fields. Approximately 34 soccer fields per second! (more…)
Did you know that 5% of all species of flora and fauna in the world live and grow in Costa Rica? Also, Costa Rica is in the global top 20 countries with the greatest biodiversity! Are you a real nature lover? Then put Costa Rica on your bucket list. But… before you pull your backpack and passport out of the closet, we want to give you a lesson about biodiversity. Maybe you have what it is, but to refresh your memory we’ll explain it to you in this blog. (more…)
Critically endangered parrot species Yesterday the research program of Adopt Rainforest participated in the Censo Internacional de la Guacamaya Verde 2022. Or in English the International Sensus of the Great Green Macaw. Throughout its distribution, dozens of organisations participate in the next days to get an understanding of the current state of this parrot species. […]
In recent years, the reserve of the Adopt Rainforest Foundation has been easy for project manager Maarten to oversee. Two or three times a week he and the students make his rounds through the project area for the biodiversity research. For this research they visit several plots of the area, giving them a good insight into what is happening. Should any illegal logging occur, it is immediately noticed. The same goes for illegal hunting. In addition to the local presence, camera traps are hung at various places in the reserve. These are checked weekly. Should hunters or poachers walk through our reserve, this is quickly noticed.