An Acromyrmex volcanus colony is maintained in the laboratory of Cameron Currie, associate professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The ants are located on a spongy fungus garden, which they grow themselves. This colony of a leaf cutter ant species cuts leaves, and then incorporates the fresh leaf material into the tops of its gardens. Leaf pieces are cut to a small size (as shown in the green leaf fragments in the fungus near the ants), and then tufts of fungus are “planted” on the leaves. The fungus then uses the leaves as a substrate on which to grow. The fuzzy white material covering the ants is a bacteria that produces antibiotics that protect the the ant’s cultivar (farmed fungus) from harmful pathogens. In fact, the ants have specialized gardening and weeding behaviors in which they rub the white bacteria onto parts of the garden that are infected so that the antibiotics produced by the bacteria may come into contact with the infection.
© University of Wisconsin-Madison University Communications
Photo by: B W Hoffmann
Date: 04/09 File#: Canon EOS 5D digital frame

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