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My Dream Ant Farm: Leafcutter Ants

January 1, 2020


Guys, behold the ant keeping piece de resistance. What you are looking at here is the dream
setup and species of nearly every pro ant hobbyist in the world! Trust me! We absolutely drool over this ant farm setup! So this week, I wanted to take a short break
from our regularly scheduled ant soap opera of our cherished ants in the Philippines,
and take a trip all the way to Montreal, Canada so we could completely nerd out at one of
the most impressive captive ant setups I have ever seen. What you’re about to see in this week’s video
is the dream ant setup nearly every single ant nerd on the planet, like myself, has dreamed
of having, and I can’t wait to explain why in perfect ant nerd fashion, as we tour the
Espace Pour La Vie Montreal Insectarium’s leaf-cutter ant exhibit, and talk about what
makes these fungus-farming ants some of the most biotechnologically advanced organisms
on the planet. You won’t want to miss all the epic ant discovery
ahead, so keep on watching until the end! AC Family, gather round to ant watch and completely
geek out wit me! On this episode of the AntsCanada Ant Channel. Please SUBSCRIBE to my channel, and hit the
bell icon. Welcome to the AC Family. Tired on nature channels not playing nature
shows? Just watch this channel. Enjoy! I’m currently back in Canada for a work trip,
and my travels took me to the gorgeous French Canadian city of Montreal, which happens to
house one of my favourite spots in the entire country: the Insectarium. Entering the building you find a tonne of
insect exibits, but of course my favourite was this. AC Family, welcome to the Atta exhibit, an
impressive 7 yr old colony of leaf-cutter ants. Now if you’re new to leafcutter ants, let
me tell you, these ants are some of the most mind-blowing ants ever! Last year, we covered them in an episode featuring
a desert species of leafcutter ants, which I highly recommend you watch after this video,
but these girls are a tropical species of leafcutters from South America. These ants belonging to the genus Atta, are
called leafcutter ants because of how they cut up pieces of leaves and use them to feed
their underground fungus gardens which they eat. That’s right, these ants farm microscopic
mushrooms for a living. Now check out how brilliant this setup is! Let’s take a tour, shall we! Here is the main nesting basin. Inside it are clear acrylic containers which
simulate underground chambers for the ants, and inside each one of those containers are
the gorgeous fungal gardens. Yes, those greyish honeycomb-looking things
are the ants’ giant fungus balls which they tend and care for very meticulously. You see, these ants must ensure that these
fungus crops remain healthy and continue to thrive because without them, the entire ant
colony would die, but more about that mind-blowing activity later. So each acrylic container has an opening to
which a stick is fixated in order for the leafcutter ants to climb so they can drag
their cut up pieces of leaves into the chambers. Inside each of these chambers is a plaster
floor which helps keep the inside nice and humid, necessary for the ants and the fungal
gardens to survive. In the wild, these ants create deep chambers
to house their massive fungal balls, but they will also be opportunistic as seen in this
setup and occupy any readily available space with ideal conditions. I was once in Mexico and watched an Atta colony
bringing leaves deep into a sewer. Seems these ants are resourceful and willing
to use whatever’s available in order to survive. Now let’s move backwards and see where the
ants are getting all these pieces of leaves, the food for their fungus. Traveling up this trunk base, and up this
wooden branch, and down this neat entanglement of banches, we come to the source of their
fungus food. At the other end of their setup, the ants
reach an assortment of various leaves and hibiscus flowers. Leafcutter ants don’t accept all kinds of
folliage, but amazingly the ants seem to know which plant matter would best nourish their
fungus, aka their food, and it’s those that the ants cut up and bring home. Isn’t that just amazing, AC Family? It seems the ants and their fungus have a
mutual understanding. Perhaps psychically bonded? Well, let’s leave that for another video! The leaves and flowers are kept fresh by way
of waterpicks hidden strategically around the branch entanglement. Also available to the ants are rolled oats,
which the ants also seem to love, or should I say their fungus seem to love. Now you may notice that this setup is glassless,
so you may be asking what is keeping the ants from escaping into the museum. Well, a thick band of this stuff called fluon
painted across all vertical surfaces of the basins are super slippery for the ants and
it keeps them from climbing out of the setup. Each basin is also surrounded by a moat of
water for extra security. Any ants traveling across the braches that
might slip and fall also fall into a basin secured with fluon and surrounded by a moat. Now this leaf-cutter ant colony is 7 yrs old
and contains 1 egg-laying queen living somewhere in one of these acrylic containers. She is large and apparently is seen sometimes
emerging to switch containers but is always surrounded by a massive ball of workers protecting
her. I love watching the ants traveling back and
forth carrying their pieces of cut up leaves, flowers, and oats back to the nest. It is just so entrancing and fascinating watching
the ants work tirelessly. I could literally be here for hours. How about you guys? Let’s watch them for a bit. Speaking of ant watching, one of the coolest
parts of this ant setup is the fixation of a webcam right here, which projects the ants
working onto a screen so you could watch the ants around the clock. Not sure if at one point this was streamed
online, but it gave me an idea. AC Family, if I managed to hook up a 24 hr
stream of my ants back in Manila, would you tune in to watch? Which colony would you like to see a stream
of? Let me know in the comments section and perhaps
we just might make it happen. Now I feel the reason ant keeping as a hobby
is so appealing is because of how much ants are like humans, and in my books, these leafcutter
ants are some of the most human-like ants around. They’re farmers for goodness sakes and not
only that, they’ve been farming for millions and millions of years on this planet, way
before humans ever appeared on earth. There are even fossils of leafcutter ants
as far back as 20 Million years ago. And speaking of human-like, check out their
massive pile of garbage, yes that orange hill is the colony’s garbage. Alright so here is the portion of the video
where we’re about to completely geek out, yes, more than we already have. So are you ready to hear what makes these
ants so incredible in the biological world? Prepare to be mind blown, AC Family! Ok, get this. These ants grow their fungus which they eat,
right? But believe it or not, like humans, the ants
have to deal with weeds, bad fungus which feed on their good fungus. So, the ants have a built-in weeding system. Check it out! Special patches on their body house colonies
of a specialized bacteria called Actinomyces and these specialized bacteria produce an
antibiotic which kill the fungus weeds. See this photo of a leafcutter ant which looks
like it is covered in white hair? Well, these white hairs are the strands of
antibiotic which help kill the weed fungus which kill their food fungus. But that’s not all. The mind blowing part is that the leafcutter
ants, their food fungus, the weed fungus, and the specialized bactera are all only found
within these leafcutter ant nests, nowhere else in the world! Isn’t that just crazy? These four organisms are so interdependent
on each other that they cannot exist without eachother, and do so only in these leafcutter
ant nests. Scientists are even trying to study the antibiotics
the actinomyces produce in hopes to produce antibiotic alternatives for humans. Aside from that, these ants are important
herbivores in the ecosystems where they are from, so conservation of their habitat is
super important, which brings me to why I don’t own a colony of these leafcutter ants
and a dream setup like this. I live in the Philippines, where leafcutter
ants like these don’t exist, and if you’ve been following this channel for awhile you
might recall a previous video where we outline the dangers of keeping ants that are not from
your area. We have always promoted the notion of responsible
ant keeping among private ant keepers and hobbysists, meaning the keeping of ants caught
from one’s area, but we do have one exception to the rule, and that is in cases like this
where the imported creatures are housed under very controlled environments for the purpose
of public education and/or study. Meet Dominic, the resident Myrmecologist of
the Insectarium and the one who has cared for this colony since they first received
it 7 yrs ago. He just so happened to be refilling one of
the food stations with oats when he spotted me filming and told me he was also an AC Family
member. How neat! Dominic said the Candian govement granted
them a very special permit for them to display these animals and have them in the museum,
and also mentioned that they are under constant serveillance having to abide by super strict
terms regarding maintaining the exhibit and keeping it secure so to not allow the ants
to escape. Even if these tropical ants may theoretically
fail to survive a Canadian winter, there are still other ways in which escaped ants can
negatively impact the environment here in Canada including spreading disease or other
pathogens to local flora and fauna. Also, there are other variables that one might
consider including the survival of the ants in indoor enivornments during the winter. However, it’s totally awesome that one can
visit amazing places like the Montreal Insectarium here to get up close and personal and get
a glimpse at the lives of these amazing leafcutter ants, which in turn will go on to inspire
others to admire their beauty, perhaps inspire them to seek further research about them. It is also one of the reasons why this channel
exists, the more people know about how awesome ants are the more people respect them and
want to conserve them and their habitat, and that is definitely a good thing even for our
own good. Thank you guys for contributing to this growing
ant consciousness by watching this video. I truly appreciate it! Don’t forget, guys to give this video a thumbs
up, hit the Like button, and subscribe if you enjoyed this video, and hey, even though
I can’t have this setup at home, it doesn’t mean I can’t do something similar with ants
from where I live. What do you guys say we try to create a similar
setup at home in the ant room? Which ant colony though would do best in a
setup like this? Perhaps a whole new ant species like Asian
Weaver Ants? Oh boy! This may be a very big undertaking! I’ll also marinade on some ideas and take
in some of your feedback. AC Family, until next week, this is your ant
nerd AntsCanada signing out. It’s ant love forever! Alright, AC Family! Aren’t leafcutter ants pretty cool? I’d say so! AC Inner Colony, I have left a hidden cookie
for you here if you would just like to watch some extended play footage of these ants doing
their thing in this impressive exhibit. I have also left a link in the description
box to the Insectarium’s website if you would like more information on the exhibit or on
what other cool things you can find in the Montreal Insectarium. And now it’s time for the AC Question of the
Week. Last week we asked: Name one reason why we felt the
terrarium in the video was haunted? Congratulations to Kylo Ren who correctly
answered: Everytime we tried to move an ant colony into
the terrarium they either died or caused a problem. Congratulations Kylo Ren you just won a free
ebook handbook from our shop! In this week’s AC Question of the Week, we
ask: How do live ant exhibits like this help
ants, humans, and the environment? Leave your answer in the comments section
and you could win a free ant t-shirt from our shop! Hope you can subscribe to the channel as we
upload every Saturday at 8AM EST. Please remember to LIKE, COMMENT, SHARE, & SUBSCRIBE
if you enjoyed this video to help us keep making more. It’s ant love forever!

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