Leaf Cutter Lab Ants

After an arduous journey consisting of at least 20 different queues, three different airports, and a bomb ‘scare’ (nobody seemed very scared) we finally arrived in Madison Wisconsin. We’re here at the Cameron Currie lab to film the internals of leaf cutter nests that would be impossible to see in the wild without digging up the whole enormous colony and destroying it. Luckily for us, leafcutters are easily kept in captivity and are the focus of much research on how exactly they manage their crops of cultivated fungus.

The ants here live mostly in plastic boxes of various sizes, and their beautiful sponge-like fungus gardens are easy to see. (Alex Wild was here a couple of weeks ago and took these pictures

As we need to film these ants in a more natural situation, we’ve given them some real dirt to play with. They haven’t seen soil since they were collected from Costa Rica a couple of years ago, and they are loving it. Yesterday morning, they started excavating some new chambers for fungus gardens, and we’ve managed to film some close up digging, and spectacular tracking shots of them carrying the soil down tunnels to the soil dump.


xl said...

AHA! Lulu's notorious baked dirt recipe!

PS: Is that fungus growing on the ants covered in white?

Nadege said...

That sounds amazing! I was laughing at you bringing the dirt from the UK but now I can't wait to see what you'll be bringing back (by that I mean footage not dirt). See you soon!

ammonite said...

The white on Alex Wild's (Myrmecos) images isn't fungus, but bacteria, and the properties of these bacteria are one of the main foci of research at the Currie lab in the University of Wisconsin where we are working.

Nadege, the footage is very good