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Leaf-cutter Ants, By Bence Máté, Pusztaszer, Hungary

Leaf-cutter Ants

Atta cephalotes

Learn more about Atta cephalotes from the Encyclopedia of Life

Encyclopedia of Life

Santa Rita, Costa Rica
By Bence Máté
Pusztaszer, Hungary


Leaf-cutter ants are very abundant in lowland forests throughout Costa Rica. Large nests built below the ground provide a home for up to five million insects. Day and night, ants travel as far as several hundred feet to transport leaf fragments back to their chambers. The carrying is performed by intermediatesized workers, who are guarded by ferocious-looking “majors” about three-quarters of an inch long. The workers can carry loads up to 12 times their own weight, with each round trip taking several hours. The leaf material brought back is chewed up by the ants and fed to a fungus that provides the ants with food.

“Leaf-cutter ants collect many different types of leaves and flower petals. The garden at the Laguna del Lagarto Lodge is full of flowers that are invaded by the ants. As they carried the colorful petals, I lay down to set up this reflected composition. I shot many thousands of pictures over several days and got just a few images that were sharp.” —BM


Nikon D700; 105mm ƒ/2.8 lens; 1/250 sec at ƒ/16; ISO 200; Nikon SB800 flash (4); Gitzo carbon tripod; Gitzo fluid head.