Tag Archives: Ant Excavation

Day 7: Ant-man

One of the mysteries in insect biology is the mating of leaf-cutter ants. Although we know a lot about their nuptial flights (mating gatherings) we do not know where they actually gather and mate. Scott tells us that queens and males fly high in the sky during nuptial flights, flying above the forest canopy. No one has recorded their mating behavior, still.

A soldier leaf-cutter ant locking down its jaw on my field notebook…

Today we set out to do an ant excavation with the large crew from the Mississippi University. We dug out an 1-year old leaf-cutter ant’s nest and found the queen, which was about 8-12 times bigger than the worker ants. We also excavated a 20+ ft long nest, which was likely over 25 years old, and located the dump chamber. It was a first experience for us, even for Scott, who for the first time noticed the higher temperature of the dump chamber, likely due to its decomposing cycle.


In the evening, we went through the photographs that we captured via camera traps. They were some of the best things that has happened to us so far because of the surprising nature of the reveal. From dark, incomprehensible images to bright jaguar images, the experimental results made us scream aloud. Some of the most exciting results we collected were timestamped photographs on peccaries, jaguars, a puma, curracels, an agouti, and a tapir. We were able to conclude from this experiment that there is higher biodiveristy found off trail in the Las Cuevas Research Station area than on trail.

Ants All Day + Cecropia Trees + Nest Excavation

Hello everyone! As today’s title implies, today’s activities focused on a few different species of ants. This morning we split into a few different groups and performed experiments to test how Cecropia trees, which usually rely on a symbiosis with Aztec ants to fend off herbivores, survive before they are old enough to provide for ants. My group in particular focused on if there is a physical difference between the young and old Cecropia trees that resulted in this deterrence. One way we did this was using a penetrometer to test the toughness of the leaves.

During the day, we also found a trail of Army ants along the road and the cone-shaped holes of the ant lion under the classroom building. In the afternoon, we excavated three leaf-cutter ant nests to find the fungi that they cultivate. It was really cool to see all of the different castes of these ants as they swarmed out of the nests and not nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

A peek into the leaf-cutter ants' fungi garden
A peek into the leaf-cutter ants’ fungi garden

In terms of beetle spottings, one small narrow bodied black beetle (I believe it was of a similar species to the Brentus anchorago beetle based on its body shape, similar abdomen and thorax size, and very narrow snout) was found near the 10 year ant nest. There was also a 2-3 cm black and brown beetle (I think it might also have been a ground beetle, similar to the Lebia genus) with a narrow body in the classroom. A tiny black beetle of around 1 cm was also found on a leaf of a small tree around a juvenile Cecropia tree. This beetle I think was of the Cysteodemus genus based on its highly rounded abdomen covered with punctate marks. There were also more fireflies of the same species as yesterday (Ellychnia within the Lampyridae family). Finally, there was a black ground beetle (family Carabidae, species similar to Calosoma calidum or a species in the genus Harpalus) of about 4 cm crawling around in the girls’ bathroom sink late tonight. Thanks for reading everyone! 🙂

A black ground beetle, family Carabidae