The infrabuccal pellet piles of fungus-growing ants

Naturwissenschaften. 2003 Dec;90(12):558-62. doi: 10.1007/s00114-003-0480-x. Epub 2003 Nov 4.


Fungus-growing ants (Attini) live in an obligate mutualism with the fungi they cultivate for food. Because of the obligate nature of this relationship, the success of the ants is directly dependent on their ability to grow healthy fungus gardens. Attine ants have evolved complex disease management strategies to reduce their garden's exposure to potential parasitic microbes, to prevent the establishment of infection in their gardens, and to remove infected garden sections. The infrabuccal pocket, a filtering device located in the oral cavity of all ants, is an integral part of the mechanisms that leaf-cutter ants use to prevent the invasion and spread of general microbial parasites and the specific fungal-garden parasite Escovopsis. Fungus-growing ants carefully groom their garden, collecting general debris and pathogenic spores of Escovopsis in their infrabuccal pocket, the contents of which are later expelled in dump chambers inside the nest or externally. In this study we examined how a phylogenetically diverse collection of attine ants treat their infrabuccal pellets. Unlike leaf-cutters that deposit their infrabuccal pellets directly in refuse piles, ants of the more basal attine lineages stack their infrabuccal pellets in piles located close to their gardens, and a separate caste of workers is devoted to the construction, management, and eventual disposal of these piles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / microbiology
  • Ants / pathogenicity
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Mouth / microbiology
  • Plant Leaves / parasitology
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Symbiosis*