Atta cephalotes (Neotropical Giant Leafcutter Ant)
This 'New World' Giant species of ant is probably one of the "celebrity" species amongst the ant keeping hobby and related fields - often featuring in widespread documentaries on platforms such as National Geographic, BBC and Netflix. The leafcutter ant nest is a highly complex society which is known for its lengthy foraging trails spanning metres through South American jungle and plains predominantly. These ants are brown-orange in colouration and prove to have a highly polymorphic society - from 2mm nurses all the way to 18-20mm majors with large metallic zinc mandibles, perfect for cutting the soft tissue of plant matter.
Leaf cutter ants as the name indicates, do just that - cut leaves! However, unlike popular belief, the ants don't actually use these leaves to feed themselves and the queen, instead they transport this biological matter deep within the nest chambers in order to present it to their symbiotic nest partner - typically a Leucocoprinus gongylophorus fungus organism. Here is where the really intricate scientific action happens!
This fungus actually has the ability to degrade the plant cellulose fibres (that's plant tissue to you and me) and turn these into nutrient forms that in exchange, feed the entire ant colony whilst keeping some for its own growth and stability.
Therefore, when you buy a leafcutter colony you will receive a large enough sample of fungus which will enable them to carry on this mutualistic relationship and continue growing and expanding in your setup.
In the wild, nests are often found amongst lowland territories in which shrubs and low lying plant foliage predominates. Additionally, these habitats are usually exposed to wet and dry seasons however, due to the tropical nature, these ants, specifically their fungus has adapted to a very specific temperature and humidity range of 23-25C and 80-99% humidity.
Lastly did you know that whilst these ants are the true giant leafcutter ants, there are 2 more genera of leaf cutter ants - Acromyrmex spp. & Trachymyrmex spp.
They are a very active species of ant that is suitable for individuals looking to get into exotic ant species. As long as the temperature and humidity parameters are provisioned for, the ants and fungus should thrive with the right leaf material (privet, soft flowers, bramble, orange peel, grapes, oats, fish flakes). In terms of growth they are very fast to develop into large colonies. Due to the nature of their natural environment being tropical, these ants are active throughout the entire year, thus not requiring hibernation.
Note: It is normal for the colony to not cut leaves during the first 24-48hrs as during this critical period, they will be preoccupied with assembling the fungus back to its former glory whilst simultaneously, removing any dead (black) fungus.
Normally, no more than 1/3 of fungus will perish during shipping which is completely fine as long as the right temperature & humidity parameters are in place from the start.
It is illegal and strictly frowned upon to release any non-native ants into the wild.