Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Life in the Forest

The Batchac Ant (Atta cephalotes) is indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago. Anyone who has gardened in Trinidad will know all about batchacs. To say that they decimate a garden in hours is an understatement. These warrior ants have powerful jaws which vibrate up to one thousand times a second to slice off pieces of leaves. Interestingly, the ants do not live on the leaves but rather on fungus and they harvest the leaves to create the compost for fungus production. Isn't that remarkable? Batchacs (also known as leaf cutter ants) belong to highly organized and socialized colonies with different types of workers for different tasks.

The soldier ants have large jaws that are powerful enough to cut through leather and they are the field workers so to speak. The gardener leaf cutters work below ground to mulch the leaves that the soldiers bring to the nest and that provide the fodder for the specific fungus needed for their diet.
The queen lays all the eggs needed to supply the colony with workers. A single colony can consist of three to eight million ants.

We saw this nest at Asa Wright and it was one of many that we came across on our hike. We also saw their presence on many stripped trees and shrubs.

Barry, our guide, gives this story. The Asa Wright team has an ant colony in the main house where they can observe the behaviour of these fascinating insects. They had a queen that had been taken from one of the nests in the garden and things were proceeding quite well. That is, until her workers rescued her by breaking into the nest and carrying her out on their backs.

The staff observed the "rescue".


This heliconia flower is a favourite of the hummingbirds and the tanagers. And this is the "seed" which is swallowed and warmed in the tummy of birds. It is spread throughout the forest this way.