A fungus that lives in the foothills of South America’s rainforest, eats 50,000 leaves a day and does not need to shop.
This task outsources the fungal species to the leaf-cutting ant. But these ants do this for a reason. Plant material is not easy to digest. It also reflects the length of the plant’s digestive tract. The gut of a meat-eating tiger is 6 meters and that of a grass-eating cow is 24 meters. Oh yes: then the cow has many stomachs to process that green.
Among other things, all efforts are necessary because the plants can protect themselves well. You can’t go through that protective cell layer. Fortunately, there are special bacteria that can be found in a cow’s stomach – and they know how to deal with it. It can not be done if the leaf cutting ant. Makes fungus. Or better yet, maybe not all alone.
Ants carry pieces of leaves and the fungus makes fats and proteins in special bags that ants eat. Ants excrete some of those proteins in re-supplied plant material, which the fungus prefers. It helps to break the leaves. So everyone in this collaboration is happy. Except perhaps the plants plucked for this purpose.
Thanks for a fantastic detailed article on BBC Science Focus: Leaf-cutting ants: Insects that grow on fungi⁇
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