Home Institution

Tufts University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Leaf-cutter ants have been shown to rigorously maintain their trunk trails throughout the year and regardless of if they have traffic. The behaviors of this clearing mechanism of the ants has been well-documented with different natural obstacles such as leaves and twigs, yet the comparative energy and time used by the ants with anthropogenic obstacles still remains unknown. In order to determine the differences in time and energy for moving these obstacles, both natural and artificial obstacles were tested in tandem during these trials. I used different sizes of blockers to see if the surface area and weight factored into the ants’ ability to move objects and also had comparably sized and weighted objects from both types of materials- plastics and leaves. While the recognition times for the two types of objects were similar, the total removal times of the anthropogenic blockers were significantly larger with the majority of this time coming from post-removal inspection. Furthermore, only the smallest blocker of the different materials showed any difference in total energy used by the ants to remove it from their trails. This indicates a greater need to exclude plastics and other anthropogenic influences from our natural areas. It has also been shown that leaf-cutter ants rely heavily on their chemical scents on their trails and by preventing human factors to these pheromones we can avoid extensive damage to these animals’ livelihood.


Entomology | Natural Resources and Conservation