Leaf Cutter Ants Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Ryan Newton
There are thousands of kinds of ants, but leaf cutter ants are among the most unique. They spend their lives cutting pieces of leaves, flowers, and grasses, and marching them to their underground homes. In this lesson, you will learn more about these fascinating insects.

Different Kinds of Ants

Scientists estimate that there are about 20,000 different types of ants on Earth! They live almost everywhere. Ants are successful insects because they work together in large groups to survive. One of the most interesting types is the leaf cutter ant.

There are 39 different kinds of leaf cutter ants. They live in the warm climates of Central America, South America, Mexico, and parts of the Southern United States. Leaf cutter ants vary in color from reddish to dark brown, and can be up to a half an inch long. What's really cool is that besides humans, leaf cutter ants make up the largest group of social animals on Earth!

What's with the Name?

Blackbirds are black and bluebirds are blue, right? Well, leaf cutter ants cut leaves! Okay, so not the most creative name, but there's much more to it than that. Leaf cutter ants spend almost all of their time cutting pieces of leaves and marching in lines to take them back to their underground nests.

They can carry leaf pieces that weigh up to three times more than them! They sometimes carry them for over 100 feet. That would be like you carrying your dad all the way across your yard! Sounds crazy, but these ants are incredible!

So why all the Leaves?

Leaf cutter ants cut mostly leaves, but they also cut flowers and grasses. They don't do it just to decorate their nests. There is a very important reason for all of their hard work. Leaf cutters use their powerful jaws to cut leaves and take them back to their nests.

They then use them to grow an underground fungus garden. The fungus they grow becomes their food and gives them energy to go get more leaves. All this work also helps the soil to stay healthy so that new plants will grow.

cutting leaves
Leaf cutters

Underground Cities

Leaf cutters live in underground cities with tunnels and sometimes over 1,000 rooms. They can be big enough for millions of ants. They work together, protect each other, and make sure that their city continues to do well. Think about your city and the different responsibilities of doctors, policemen, teachers, and firemen. Each person does a different job so that the whole town is safe and happy.

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