Foraging behaviour of Atta cephalotes (leaf-cutting ants): an examination of two predictions for load selection

Anim Behav. 2000 Dec;60(6):781-788. doi: 10.1006/anbe.2000.1537.


Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain how colony-level foraging performance of leaf-cutting ants can be maximized when workers harvest leaf fragments of a size that does not maximize their individual performance. Each mechanism predicts that ants will adjust the size of leaf fragments between starting a foraging bout and establishing full traffic between the nest and foraging site, but the two models predict shifts in opposite directions. I examined fragment sizes at the start of daily foraging in five field colonies of Atta cephalotes in Costa Rica and detected an obvious shift in only one case. More shifts were detected when the small and large ends of the worker body size range were considered separately, but the direction was inconsistent among colonies. I also examined the role of returning laden workers in recruitment of nestmates by intercepting all laden workers for the first 2 h of foraging, and measuring the effect on the arrival of recruits at the foraging site. In two cases, the flow of recruits was not diminished by the interception of returning workers. The results suggest that neither mechanism correctly and consistently accounts for load size selection by leaf-cutting ants. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.