On The Autobiography Of A Leafcutter Ant

Call me Tzipi. I am a leafcutter ant. I was born to a queen in a colony in an area of Central America rich in vegetation. I do not know who my father was, exactly, because like most winged female ants my mother the queen had hundreds of mates to collect the three hundred million or so sperm she needed during her revuada.

When my mother lost her wings she settled on a patch of rich vegetation near a citrus plantation to found the colony. She had a little store of mycelium from the parental fungus garden in her infrabuccal pocket, and that got us started.

I am a leafcutter ant of the type known as a media, a general forager. Among my siblings are other mediae, and minims, minors and majors. Shortly after I came into the world I set about doing my bit for the colony. In a column of other mediae, I marched from our little fungus garden towards the citrus plantation. It was an arduous journey, as we had to negotiate treacherous terrain and at the same time fend off attacks by phorid flies which, given half the chance, would lay their parasitic eggs in the crevices of our heads. When we got to the citrus plantation we lined up and took it in turns to cut a little section of leaf from the foliage, not so small that it was barely worth the bother, but not so big that we would become exhausted from carrying it. Then we made our way back the way we had come, marching across treacherous terrain and fending off the phorid flies with the help of our little minims sitting on our backs. When we got back to the colony we deposited our leaf-fragments in the fungus garden, and turned around, and then again we marched from our little fungus garden towards the citrus plantation. It was an arduous journey, as we had to negotiate treacherous terrain and at the same time fend off attacks by phorid flies which, given half the chance, would lay their parasitic eggs in the crevices of our heads. When we got to the citrus plantation we lined up and took it in turns to cut a little section of leaf from the foliage, not so small that it was barely worth the bother, but not so big that we would become exhausted from carrying it. Then we made our way back the way we had come, marching across treacherous terrain and fending off the phorid flies with the help of our little minims sitting on our backs. When we got back to the colony we deposited our leaf-fragments in the fungus garden, and turned around, and then again we marched from our little fungus garden towards the citrus plantation. It was an arduous journey, as we had to negotiate treacherous terrain and at the same time fend off attacks by phorid flies which, given half the chance, would lay their parasitic eggs in the crevices of our heads. When we got to the citrus plantation we lined up and took it in turns to cut a little section of leaf from the foliage, not so small that it was barely worth the bother, but not so big that we would become exhausted from carrying it. Then we made our way back the way we had come, marching across treacherous terrain and fending off the phorid flies with the help of our little minims sitting on our backs. When we got back to the colony we deposited our leaf-fragments in the fungus garden, and turned around, and then again we marched from our little fungus garden towards the citrus plantation.

After about twenty-four hours we had managed to completely defoliate an entire citrus tree, so on our next visit to the plantation we veered off from our previous course and began cutting bits of leaves from a new tree. Unfortunately, the Central American citrus fruit farmer whose plantation we were trespassing upon, and gradually destroying, had noticed our depredations. He was livid. He stomped off back to his casa, presumably to fetch some form of leafcutter ant slaughtering device. We quickly took a bit of leaf each from the new tree and marched back to the colony.

There we found chaos, in the form of a virulent strain of Escovopsis, a necrotic parasite. It threatened our food source and, thus, the colony itself. Luckily, just in the nick of time, we were all able to secrete Actinobacteria, genus Pseudonocardia from our metapleural glands, and that protected us. Given that this Actinobacteria is the source of virtually all antibiotics used by humans, it struck me that the citrus fruit farmer was being a bit ungrateful.

Anyway, after all this marching and carrying and secreting we were quite tired, so we sat about munching on stuff from the fungal garden. Mother looked on contentedly. It grew dark, and we heard all sorts of nocturnal birds and beasts screeching and howling.

The next morning, we decided to avoid the plantation of the livid citrus fruit farmer. The splendid thing about this part of the world is that there is such a sheer profusion of vegetation. We headed off to a neighbouring citrus plantation. It was an arduous journey, as we had to negotiate treacherous terrain and at the same time fend off attacks by phorid flies which, given half the chance, would lay their parasitic eggs in the crevices of our heads. When we got to the new citrus plantation we lined up and took it in turns to cut a little section of leaf from the foliage, not so small that it was barely worth the bother, but not so big that we would become exhausted from carrying it. Then we made our way back the way we had come, marching across treacherous terrain and fending off the phorid flies with the help of our little minims sitting on our backs. When we got back to the colony we deposited our leaf-fragments in the fungus garden. Such is life.

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