Costa Rica is full of many amazing things, beautiful flora, and fascinating fauna. While I was expecting colorful birds and monkeys, it was the smallest thing that really surprised me.
They’re called leafcutter ants; the locals call them “windsurfers.”
We were visiting a local ruin when we stumbled up on a line of leaf bits seemingly shuffling along of their own accord. Inspecting closer revealed their mode of transport, and I was instantly delighted.
The orderly patterns were fun to photograph, and we, of course, had to follow the line of ants in either direction. Where were they taking these leaves? More lines coalesced to a large hole in the ground, where they all disappeared, reemerging empty-handed.
Several yards away, specks made their way up tree trunks, out to branches well above our heads. I couldn’t quite find where they were actively cutting the bits of leaves, though I would have loved to. We must have spent a good half hour there, just marveling at this tiny wonder.
I had never seen anything like it before, so we obviously had to inquire with our next tour guide.
These ants can carry many times their own weight in leaves, flowers, and other organic material, harvesting them for the colony. Along the way, tiny, nearly weightless ants ride along to clean the bits of leaves of any contaminants. Once under the anthill, the materials are used to grow a fungus, then used as food. The fungus can’t grow without the ants, and the ants can’t survive without this sustenance. The high humidity of Central America is the perfect environment, and the temperature is carefully controlled by a combination of circulating ants generating heat and ground vents blocked or opened as necessary for cooling.
Nature is brilliant.
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