Foraging behavior of leaf cutting ants: How do workers search for their food?
Keywords:leaf-cutting ants, foraging, Atta sexdens rubropilosa
Forager ants search for adequate food sources in nature and, after their discovery, decide whether the source is suitable or not for the colony. However, we asked “How do workers seek out the substrate for cultivation of the symbiontic fungus on which they feed? To answer this question, we evaluated the distance traveled by individual workers in the search of food and the distance traveled to return to the nest, as well as the time and velocity necessary for these activities. The results showed that the distance traveled by the leaf cutting ant, Atta sexdens rubropilosa (Linneus, 1758), in the search of food was greater than the distance traveled to return with the substrate to the colony. On the other hand, the mean time and velocity were similar for food search and return to the colony. These results support the hypothesis of information transfer, according to which the worker needs to return to the nest at the beginning of foraging to transfer information to other workers and thus to establish the process of worker ant foraging. It can be concluded that workers travel large distances in a random manner until finding their substrate, but the return to the nest is efficient considering the shorter distance traveled.
Bollazzi, M. & Roces, F. 2011. Information needs at the beginning of foraging: grass-cutting ants trade off load size for a faster return to the nest. PLoS ONE 6(3): e17667.
Camargo, R.S., Forti, L.C., Matos, C.A. , Lopes, J.F. , A.P.P., Ramos, V.M. 2003. Post-selection and return of foraged material by Acromyrmex subterraneus brunneus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 42(1): 93-102.
Cherrett, J. M. 1972. Some factors involved in the selection of vegetable substrate by Atta cephalotes (L.) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in tropical rain forest. Journal Animal Ecology 41: 647–660.
Cherrett, J.M. & Seaforth, C.E. 1970: Phytochemical arrestants for the leaf-cutting ants, Atta cephalotes (L.) and Acromyrmex octospinosus (Reich), with some notes on the ants’ response. Bulletin Entomological Research 59: 615–625.
De Biseu, J.C. & Pasteels, J. M. 2000. Response thresholds to recruitment signals and the regulation of foraging intensity in the ant Myrmica sabuleti (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Behavioural Processes 48: 137-148.
Fowler, H. G., Forti, L. C., Brandão, C. R. F., Delabie, J. H. C., Vasconcelos, H. L. 1990. Ecologia nutricional de formigas. In: Panizzi, A. R., Parra, J. R. P. Ecologia nutricional de insetos e suas implicações no manejo de pragas.
Fowler, H. G. 1982. Habitat affect in fungal substrate selection by a leaf-cutting ants. New York Entomological Society Journal 90 (2): 64-69, Gomides, C.H.F., Della Lucia, T.M.C., Araújo, F.S., Moreira, D.D.O. 1997. Velocidad de forrajeo y área foliar transportada por la hormiga Acromyrmex subterraneus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Revista de Biologia Tropical 45: 1663-1667.
Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E.O. 1990. The ants. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 746 p.
Howard, J. J., Henneman, M. L, Cronin, G., Fox, J.A., Hormiga, G. 1996. Conditioning of scouts and recruits during foraging by a leaf-cutting ant, Atta colombica. Animal Behaviour 52: 299-306.
Howard, J.J. 1987. Leaf-cutting ant diet selection: the role of nutrients, water, and secondary chemistry. Ecology 68: 503–515.
Jaffe, K. & Deneubourg, J.L. 1992. On foraging, recruitment systems and optimum number of scouts in eusocial colonies. Insectes Sociaux 39: 201–213.
Jaffé, K. & Howse, P.E. 1979. The mass recruitment system of the leaf cutting ant, Atta cephalotes (L.). Animal Behaviour 27: 930–939.
Lewis, T., Pollard, G.V. & Dibley, G.C. 1974. Rhythmic foraging in the leaf-cutting ant Atta cephalotes (L.) (Formicidae: Attini). Journal Animal Ecology 43: 129–141.
Lopes, J.F., Forti, L.C. & Camargo, R.S. 2004. The influence of the scout upon the decision making process of recruited worker in three Acromyrmex species (Formicidae: Attini). Behavioural Processes 67: 471-476.
Nichols-Orians, C.M. & Schultz, J.C. 1990. Interactions among leaf toughness, chemistry, and harvesting by attine ants. Ecological Entomology 15: 311–320.
Núñez, J.A. 1982. Honeybee foraging strategies at a food source in relation to its distance from the hive and the rate of sugar flow. Journal Apicultural Research 21: 139–150.
Ribeiro, L.F. 2013. Modulação e organização do forrageamento em Acromyrmex subterraneus mollestans Santschi 1925. Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Pós- Graduação em Ciências Biológicas, Mestrado em Comportamento e Biologia Animal.
Roces, F. 1990. Olfactory conditioning during the recruitment process in a leaf cutting ant. Oecologia 83: 261–262.
Roces, F. 1993. Both evaluation of resource quality and speed of recruited leaf cutting ants (Acromyrmex lundi) depend on their motivational state. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 33: 83–189.
Roces, F. & Bollazzi, M. 2009. Information transfer and the organization of foraging in grass- and leaf-cutting ants. In: Jarau S, Hrncir M, eds. Food Exploitation by Social Insects: Ecological, Behavioral, and Theoretical Approaches. CRC Press: Contemporary Topics in Entomology Series. pp 261–275.
Roces, F. & Hölldobler, B. 1994. Leaf density and a trade-off between load-size selection and recruitment behavior in the ant Atta cephalotes. Oecologia 97: 1–8.
Roces, F. & Núñez, J.A. 1993. Information about food quality influences load-size selection in recruited leaf-cutting ants. Animal Behaviour 45: 135–143.
Roces, F. 2002. Individual complexity and self-organization in foraging by leaf-cutting ants. Biological Bulletin 202: 306-313.
Roces, F. & Hölldobler, B. 1994. Leaf density and a trade-off between load-size selection and recruitment behavior in Atta cephalotes. Oecologia 97: 1-8.
Rockwood, L.L. 1975. The effects of seasonality on foraging in two species of leaf-cutting ants (Atta) in Guanacaste Province Costa Rica. Biotropica 7: 176–193.
Rockwood, L.L. 1976. Plant selection and foraging patterns in two species of leaf-cutting ants (Atta). Ecology 57: 48–61.
Saverschek ,N., Herz, H., Wagner, M. & Roces, F. 2010. Avoiding plants unsuitable for the symbiotic fungus: learning and long-term memory in leaf-cutting ants. Animal Behaviour 79: 689–698.
Schlindwein, M.N. 1996. Avaliação das estratégias de forrageamento de Atta
sexdens rubropilosa Forel, 1908 (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) com o uso de manipulação espaço –temporal de recursos vegetais. Rio Claro: UNESP. Tese de Doutorado em Ciências Biológicas.
Tautz, J., Roces, F. & Hölldobler, B. 1995. Use of a sound-based vibratome by leaf-cutting ants. Science 267: 84–87.
Therrien, P. 1988. Individual food choices by foragers from the species Acromyrmex octospinosus (Reich), the leaf cutting ant. Memoirs Entomological Society Canadian 146: 123–130.
Traniello, J. F. 1989. Foraging strategies of ants. Annual Review Entomology 34: 191- 210.
Vilela, E.F. & Della Lucia, T.M.C. 1987. Feromônios de Insetos-Biologia, Quimica e Emprego no Manejo de Pragas. Viçosa, Imprensa Universitária da Univ. Federal de Viçosa.
Vilela, E.F. & Howse, P.E. 1986.Territoriality in leaf-cutting ants, Atta spp. In.: Lofgren, C.S.; Vander Meer, R.K. Fire ants and leaf-cutting ants: biology and management, Westview: Boulder, p. 159-171,
Waller, D.A. 1982. Leaf-cutting ants and avoided plants: defences against Atta texana attack. Oecologia 52: 400– 403.
Whitehouse MEA, Jaffe´ K (1996) Ant wars: combat strategies, territory and nest defence in the leaf-cutting ant Atta laevigata. Anim Behav 51: 1207–1217.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2015 Raphael Vacchi Travaglini, Luiz Carlos Forti, Roberto da Silva Camargo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Sociobiology is a diamond open access journal which means that all content is freely available without charge to the user or his/her institution. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author. This is in accordance with the BOAI definition of open access.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).