What Do Ants Do With the Leaves They Carry Around?

Alvin Ward

If you’ve ever seen a line of leaf-carrying ants marching by, you may think that they’re heading somewhere quiet so they can chow down on their salads in peace. But the ants have no intention of eating those leaves—their plans are far grander (and smarter) than that.

The video above, which comes to us via KQED’s “Deep Look,” examines the ingenious habits of leafcutter ants, who actually use the leaves for the purposes of farming. The ants cut and carry the leaves to their underground colonies. (As mentioned in the video, an ant carrying one of these leaves is the equivalent of a human hauling 600 pounds above his or her head.)

In their nests, the ants prepare and arrange the leaves before fertilizing them with their own fecal matter. Fungus begins to grow on the leaves, and soon the ants are tending to a fungus farm that grows nutritional food for the colony.

Check out the video above for more on the fascinating world of leafcutter ants, including a rundown on their various roles, which the narrator says amounts to “the most complex division of labor of any [species of] ant.”

Banner Images via YouTube, KQED.