Ants and Agriculture display in MSB lobby offers peeks at the lives of leafcutter ants

CALS scientists are putting the finishing touches on a new “Ants and Agriculture” display in Microbe Place, an outreach facility in the lobby of the Microbial Sciences Building. The exhibit offers an up-close view of a colony of leaf-cutter ants as they collect and carry plant material through plastic tubes leading back to their nest. Native to the tropics, these ants practice one of the oldest forms of agriculture on Earth, using bits of leaves to grow a fungus that provides their primary food source. The display was created by the UW-Madison Department of Bacteriology in partnership with a research team led by associate professor Cameron Currie, who studies the symbiotic relationship among the ants and antibiotic-producing microbes they use to protect their food source.

Visitors can watch ants forage and carry plant material back to the colony’s fungus garden and ferry waste into a dump chamber. The see-through chambers may even offer a glimpse of the queen, who occasionally surfaces from deep inside the fungal garden. When complete, the display will have two video monitors showing close-ups of the fungus garden and the foraging chamber. Those video feeds will also be streamed online.

The Microbial Sciences Building is located at 1550 Linden Drive. The exhibit is just inside the doors of the Linden Drive entrance. The building is open weekdays from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

Funding was provided by the Department of Bacteriology, with additional support from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and the National Science Foundation.

For more information about the display, contact the Department of Bacteriology at (608) 262-2914