A leaf-cutter ant queen is in her fungus garden surrounded by her brood and larvae. These Neotropical ants cut leaves, which they use to farm a fungus that serves as the primary food source for the colony. Leaf-cutter ant colonies are massive, containing hundreds of fungus gardens in specialized subterranean chambers that are capable of supporting millions of workers. The fungus-growing ant system is one of the most complex described symbioses, with at least four mutualists and two pathogens. This includes the ants and their fungus; a microfungal pathogen that exploits the ant-fungus relationship; actinobacteria that grow on the body of the ants and produce antifungal compounds capable of inhibiting the growth of the fungal pathogen; a black yeast that also grows on the ants and exploits the ant-bacteria relationship; and finally, nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in the fungus garden and fix nitrogen for the ants.
Visit Website | Image credit: Michael Poulsen, University of Wisconsin-Madison