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Leafcutter Ants

Leafcutter Ants are any of the forty seven species of ants belonging to the genera Atta and Acromyrmex that chew leaves. They are tropical ants that grow fungi that inhabit the southern United States, Central America and South America. The crops are grown in underground gardens that can be enormous. The cultivated fungus is completely dependent on the care of the ant and is the food of all the members of the colony, being the only food of the queen, the larvae and other members of the colony that remain in the nest; what turns the relationship into an obligated mutualism. The workers who cut leaves, in addition, ingest sap from the plants while cutting their segments.

The cutters go up in mass to the trees and they kneel their jaws on the leaves and cut sections. The columns of haulers can be seen with large pieces of vegetation raised high. They can attack many plants but constantly change the plant, apparently preventing the total removal of leaves and the death of trees, thus avoi…

Photographing birds at an army-ant swarm

Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)


Eciton is a New World army ant genus that contains the most familiar species of army ants, being the most predominant and well-known species is Eciton burchellii, which is also more commonly known as the army ant. They are very visible because they forage above ground and during the day, in enormous raiding swarms. During a tour around Pipeline Road, we found one of these swarms and entered into it to grab pictures of several birds that were feeding at the swarm, obviously being very carefully of not stepping on the ants; not only to avoid harming them but also for our own safety. These ants are ravaging and their bite can be harmful to humans.


Gray-headed Tanager (Eucometis penicillata)

Eciton army ants have a bi-phasic lifestyle in which they alternate between a nomadic phase and a statary phase. In the statary phase, which lasts about three weeks, the ants remain in the same location every night. They arrange their own living bodies into a nest, protecting the queen and her eggs in the middle. When the eggs hatch, the excitement caused by the increased activity of the larvae causes the colony to enter the nomadic phase. In the nomadic phase the ants move their entire colony to a new location nearly every night for about two weeks, around the time when the larvae begin to pupate, the colony again enters the statary phase, and the cycle begins anew.


Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens)

Because of the regularity and intensity of army-ants swarms, many insect and bird species have evolved complex relationships with these ants. While foraging, army ants cause many invertebrates to flee from their hiding places under leaves of the forest floor, under tree bark, and other such locations, thereby allowing predators to catch them more easily. For example, in the tropical rainforests of Panama, swarms of army ants attract many species of birds to this feast of scrambling insects, spiders, scorpions, worms, and other animals. Some of these birds are named “antbirds” due to this tendency. While focused on feeding on these invertebrates, birds at army-ant swarms typically allow very close approach by people—within 1 or 2 meters in many cases—often providing the best opportunities to see and photograph many of these species. Depending on the size of the ant swarm and the amount of prey the ants stir up, birds can number from a few to dozens of individuals. Birds that frequent army-ant swarms include the white-whiskered puffbird, rufous motmot, whopping motmot, rufous-vented ground cuckoo, gray-necked wood rail, plain-brown woodcreeper, northern barred woodcreeper, cocoa woodcreeper, black-striped woodcreeper, fasciated antshrike, black-crowned antshrike, spotted antbird, bicolored antbird, ocellated antbird, chestnut-backed antbird, black-faced antthrush, and gray-headed tanager. Some of which are pictured on this post.

Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)

Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)

Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)

Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)


Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Northern Barred Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae)

Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa)

Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa)

Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) - male

Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) - female

Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) - female

Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) - female

Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) - male


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