New role for majors in Atta leafcutter ants

Evison, Sophie E F and Ratnieks, Francis L W (2007) New role for majors in Atta leafcutter ants. Ecological Entomology, 32 (5). pp. 451-454. ISSN 0307-6946

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1. Atta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) leafcutter ants display the most polymorphic worker caste system in ants, with different sizes specialising in different tasks. The largest workers (majors) have large, powerful mandibles and are mainly associated with colony defence. 2. Majors were observed cutting fallen fruit and this phenomenon was investigated in the field by placing mango fruit near natural Atta laevigata and Atta sexdens colonies in São Paulo State, Brazil. 3. Ants cutting the fruit were significantly heavier (mean = 49.1 mg, SD = 11.1 mg, n= 90) than the ants carrying the fruit back to the nest (mean = 20.9 mg, SD = 9.2 mg, n= 90). 4. Fruit pieces cut by majors were small (mean = 15.9 mg), approximately half the weight of leaf pieces (mean = 28.5 mg) cut and carried by media foragers. It is hypothesised that it is more difficult to cut large pieces from three-dimensional objects, like fruit, compared to two-dimensional objects, like leaves, and that majors, with their longer mandibles, can cut fruit into larger pieces than medias. 5. The study shows both a new role for Atta majors in foraging and a new example of task partitioning in the organisation of foraging.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Depositing User: Francis Ratnieks
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:23
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2012 15:28
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