Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Leafcutters are back…

Moving to Arizona ten years ago was like turning 5 all over again. I grew up in Ohio, and after years of being a biology-nut in the Midwest, I grew pretty familiar with a lot of the local flora and fauna. And then, I moved to the desert Southwest, where the plants had spikes, animals were venomous, and both plants and animals were to be appreciated with a different level of respect than the almost entirely harmless creepy crawlies of Ohio. I had to learn names and biology all over again- and what fun it was, and continues to be! I love living in Arizona- the diversity of insect species is especially astounding. Among my favorites are the leafcutter ants that make a visit to my yard every few weeks in warmer weather. Likely belonging to the Acromyrmex genus (such a good name), these cute ladies pick a plant and form a distinct path between their nest and the plant.
Over the course of a few days, they cut small, portable pieces of vegetation (some not so portable), and bring the plant matter back to the colony. They don't eat it. Rather, the vegetation feeds a fungus colony, which in turn, feeds the ants. Crazy cool biology, huh? A few years ago, the ants picked petals from my blooming orange tree, and left a trail of dropped petals along the top of the wall surrounding my yard. This visit, they picked a common weed in my yard, and I was able to snap a few photos of their handiwork. Not sure why they picked this one; there were many plants of the same variety much closer to their nest in my neighbor's yard. Hope you enjoy the snapshots of these extraordinary creatures as much as I do!

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