Leafcutter ants are exceptional ants. They construct large, complex nests. Each colony has a number of different worker castes performing a wide variety of tasks. Everything about leafcutter ants is done on a big scale.
Leafcutter ants are named for their habit of cutting out pieces of leaves and carrying the slices back to their nest in their mandibles. Workers process the leaves, spread the resulting paste in an underground garden area, and grow a specific species of fungus on it. Rather than eating the leaves, which may contain toxins, the ants eat the fungus instead. In fact, the fungus is so critical to leafcutter ant survival that the queen ants carry a bit of fungus with them when they go on their mating flights.
Do you know some children who are interested in ants? We had a list of books for adults earlier this week, so now it is time for ant books for kids.
Allen, J. and T. Humphries. (2002). Are you an ant? Backyard Books. New York: Kingfisher Publications.
The Are you a...? books are always wonderful because the author brings the child into the story by comparing the insects, in this case ants, to humans. You feel like you are in an ant colony.
Cole, J. and B. Degen (illus.) (1996). The magic school bus gets ants in its pants: A book about ants. New York: Scholastic, Inc.
This imaginative book is filled with facts about ants and very bad puns!
Dorros, A. (1988). Ant cities. Let’s Read and Find Out Science Books. New York: HarperCollins.
Probably one of the more informative books about ants for this age group.
Micucci, C. (2003). The life and times of the ant. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
An excellent introduction to ants, with cartoon illustrations.
Rodriguez, A. M. (2009). Secret of the plant-killing ants... and more. Berkley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
An encapsulation of current research by actual myrmecologists (ant scientists), including Nigel Franks and Deborah Gordon.
Climo, S. and F.X. Mora (illus.). (1995). The little red ant and the great big crumb: A Mexican fable. New York: Clarion Books.
In this lively tale, the ant finds out more about its world.
Hepworth, C. (1992). Antics: An alphabet of ants. New York: Paperstar/Putnam and Grosset group.
If you liked the puns in the Magic School House book, you'll love these. Ant puns galore.
Hoose, P. and H. Hoose. (1998). Hey, little ant. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.
Tale about a boy deciding whether or not to step on an ant. Gives the ant's point of view.
Porte, B.A. and A. Cannon (illus.). (2000). Ma Jiang and the orange ants. New York: Orchard Books.
The orange ants in this story are named for the fact they are used to protect orange trees from pests. Ma Jiang and her family experience turbulent times in this historical account.
Van Allsbury, C. (1988). Two bad ants. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Two ants have a wild adventure in a kitchen, told from the perspective of the small and confused ants. The illustrations are incredible.
Have you read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency collection of books by Alexander McCall Smith? In these mystery novels Precious Ramotswe, a private detective in Botswana, often partakes in redbush tea. Did you know that she might not be drinking that tea if it weren't for ants?
Redbush tea, also known as rooibos, is processed from the shoots and leaves of a native African plant, Aspalathus linearis. Cultivation of the plant was initially difficult because when the seed pods mature, they rupture and shoot out the seeds. As you can imagine, that made it nearly impossible to find and pick up large enough quantities of the seeds to farm the plants.
Farmers eventually discovered certain kinds of ants harvest and store the rooibos seeds in their nests. The farmers collected seeds from the ant nests and planted them successfully. Now farmers have developed a technique to sift the soil for seed and do not rely on ants as much. Because of their initial use of the harvesting power of ants, however, redbush tea is now available worldwide.
Note: Contrary to some reports on the Internet, the seeds gathered by ants are used to grow new plants, not to make the tea itself.