Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 1, 2008

Tinum...The Journey Of The Leaf-Cutter Ants

All sorts of interesting creatures seem to hang out in the backyard here, some showing up in odd places at odd times. The leaf-cutter ants may be the best example of the unexpected that I have found so far. One night as I was walking out to the bathroom about 11 p.m., the glow of my flashlight picked up a trail of green leaves that had not been there before. I knew that for sure because I had just finished raking the leaves from the path just a few hours earlier. Plus, these leaves were still green. As I crouched closer to see what it might be, I picked up the movement of hundreds of ants, and I quickly moved back to make sure none of them could reach my feet, because I have been told that the bite of these ants can really hurt. But except for the narrow trail of ants carrying leaves, there seemed to be very few stray ones, and I peered closer. As I watched them move, they seemed to have a collective purpose which made them focus dilligently on the task at hand, which was to climb a very tall tree, cut the green leaves into sections, and then carry them home. As I stood there watching, a green leaf actually fell out of the tree onto their path, and an ant approached it, slowly cut an abstract corner off of it, and then wandered off and left the pieces laying on the ground. In fact, hundreds of cut leaves actually lay on the path, as ants climbed the tree to cut leaves, and then slowly returned with their bounty on their backs. I wondered if they would leave the fallen leaves on the ground, or eventually pick them up. Other ants seemed to be trying to clear the path a little, as their trail lay up and over the fresh pile of leaves I had raked. A few of them were trying to move dry leaves out of the way of the masses. I followed the ants with my flashlight over my leaf pile and down to the backyard, careful to never step on the narrow trail. Several hundred feet later, their path went through the rock fence and into the neighbor's backyard, and I declined to follow them further, but was estimating that each ant only would have time to make only a couple of trips in the course of a night, if that much, since they didn't move during the day. But they were focused on their green prizes, and even when I picked up a leaf, an ant stayed attached to it with waving legs, waiting until I put it back on the trail to continue walking the long way back their anthill. And the next morning, when I woke up and made another trip out to the bathroom, the ants were gone, and not one green leaf remained on their trail.

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