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Welcome to Andrew Stephensons Leaf Cutting Ant page. We are the leading specialists in the world for Leaf Cutting Ants and their displays.
In the pages here you will find a general overview of Leaf Cutting ants. In the next page we will show you some of the ways you can keep them and some of the displays we have built. There is a page showing what colonies we have for sale just now and how much they cost. You can also look at the Husbandry page for some advice on keeping them.     
 Leaf Cutting Ants have increasingly been kept by hobbyists and in public exhibitions because of their amazing activity and fascinating life history. They represent the pinacle of social insect evolution and seeing their story up close, watching their behaviour and how they interact, nothing comes close in terms of educational value and just pure, fantastic, entertainment. 
For Zoos and Butterfly Houses (or any public display) the return in terms of spend versus time in front of the exhibit is better than any other display you will allocate funding to. In most cases, even in larger zoos, the visitors will find a well set up Leaf Cutting Ant display to be the most memorable exhibit they have seen during their visit. 
Leaf Cutting Ants do not stop. Unlike Snakes and Spiders they are constantly doing something. There is no down time. From watching them leave the nest and walk along a walkway (which can be up to 50m long), seeing them arrive at the feeding table and cutting a small disc of leaf or petal, watching them carry their prize back along the rope or clear plastic tube, then entering the nest and converting the leaves to a fertiliser to grow the fungus which they eat, your visitor will be rapt and engrossed. You can even run the walkway through other exhibits that may not get the viewing time you would like. Children will watch an ant for 20 minutes travelling back to the nest with a seed or twig that looks too heavy for it to manage. Other ants ride shotgun on the leaf (picture left, top). These small ants are guarding the carrier against a small fly which, in the wild, lands on its head and lays eggs which hatch and kill the ant. Amazing organisation, a fabulous opportunity to teach and entertain all at once. No other exhibit comes close. Best of all, these ants are very easy to look after and grow into a major exhibit.
   All you need to do is follow a few simple rules and its actually difficult to go wrong.
Andrew Stephenson is the worlds leading expert on Leaf Cutting Ant husbandry. He has been involved in a great many projects focussed on Social Insects over the past 25 years. Countless television programmes have used Andrew's expertise behind the camera as well as in front. Most recently he was the Project Manager and Consultant on the major BBC documentary 'Planet Ants' but has also worked with Scarlet Johanssen, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Mena Suvari, Naomi Harris and David Attenborough to name a but a few. He set up the only live exhibit at the Millenium Dome, in the mind zone. This was a colony of Leaf Cutting Ants travelling through a maze.
Tropical House supplies two different types of Leaf Cutting Ant. What you buy delends on what you want to do with them. If you are a public display you want a colony of Leaf Cutting Ants that will grow very quickly and get to huge numbers so you have a strong foraging column travelling along the rope or pipe to the feeding table. Atta cephalotes colonies can number up  to 6 million ants in the wild. In captivity these nests can get up to half a million individuals, the queen can actually lay over 10000 eggs per day!!

                If the ants are for small scale, private study, such as research or for a hobbyist 
then we would recommend you buy Acromyrmex octospinosis, a related species of Leaf Cutting Ant found in the same rainforests as Atta species. Acromyrmex octospinosis colonies will get up to around 50000 ants in captivity. Although the individual ants are larger than Atta, they do not have a soldier caste and unlike Atta they cannot break the skin when they bite. (But they still hurt!)
The care of these two types of Leaf Cutting Ant is very similar. See the
Husbandry Page for an article on Looking after Leaf Cutting Ants. Basically, whether you are looking to keep a small colony or a huge public display, the basic rules are the same. The nest tank will be where the ants grow their fungus. Leaf Cutting Ant fungus lives alongside the ants and is wholly dependent on them for its survival. This symbiotic relationship is one of the true success stories of the animal world. Leaf Cutting Ants are by far the most advanced social insect of all the Ants, Bees, Wasps and Termites. They are the only species that grow a crop to eat like we do. But they have been doing it for millions of years longer than us. The best way to approach keeping Leaf Cutting Ants is actually to think 
that you are looking after Fungus with the help of the ants. This is because Leaf Cutting Ants will tolerate a very wide range of conditions. They will function and forage from quite low temperatures to very hot conditions. Also from dry air to high humidity. However the fungus growing in the nest requires very high humidity and a stable even temperature of 23C. So it is your ability to create the perfect environment for the fungus that determines whether your colony does well or dies. When we are setting up a display of Leaf Cutting Ants we concentrate on making sure the parameters within the nest chamber are perfect. After that, everything tends to slot in to place.
Leaf Cutting Ants account for more vegetation loss in the tropics than any other animal. A large Atta colony can cover the same area as a tennis court and descend to the depth of a two storey house. The Queen Leaf Cutting ant is reckoned 
          to be the longest lived insect with a life span of up to
 20 years. Big colonies can gather the same amount of vegetation in a day as an adult cow. Often locals in the countries where they are found use their foraging pathe to navigate their way through thick jungle because the ants prune the neaby bushes and keep their trails clear of debris. They are like paths through the vegetation.
Atta cephalotes like up to 100% humidity within their nests, Acromyrmex will tolerate a lower humidity.
The value of an exhibit of Leaf Cutting Ants is not only in their impact as a fascinating display model but also in their use, during educational tours, as an illustration of many key points in the Science Curriculum. Recycling, Sociality, Food Pyramids, Predators and Prey, Rainforests, Habitat Destruction etcetc, many examples can be illustrated during a tour by dweling on this exhibt and describing the life cycle of Leaf Cutting Ants in detail. In fact you will struggle to get them to leave the ants.
Some things to bear in mind when thinking about buying Leaf Cutting Ants.
  • Buy from ethical sources. Our colonies are collected from agricultural land where, under normal circumstances, the farmers spray the ants prior to planting their crops. We pay the farmers not to do this so we bring colonies back to the UK that would otherwise be destroyed. Also all of our colonies are accompanied by the relevant paperwork to show they have been legally imported and safely transported. Border Inspection documentation, vets certificate and Entry into EU paperwork are available for your records at the point of supply.
  • Do not buy a single, 'mated' queen. Ever! You will not be able to rear this queen to the point where there is a viable colony. We are the only company, to my knowledge, in Europe that regularly imports established, healthy colonies. Many other suppliers get queens in from the wild and add fungus from another colony prior to sale in order to send what looks like a healthy colony. Very quickly, and inexplicably, the colony dies. Ask your supplier for a copy of their paperwork to confirm the colonies were imported and not created by them. Our colonies are recorded as colonies on our paperwork and are sent to you only once we are certain they are feeding well and we are happy they will thrive.
  • If you buy Atta, be aware they will get huge. House them in as big an enclosure as you can provide them with. This strategy will bear fruit later on when you do not have to contemplate rehoming a huge colony complete with its complement of soldiers. We spend a fair amount of time rehoming colonies which would not be necessary if they had been housed correctly at the beginning.
  • Don't worry! Leaf Cutting Ants are complex and very advanced. But they are, once the basics are sorted, almost maintenance free. Imagine a pet that cleans its own enclosure. You provide them with a dump chambers which you can empty and they will allocate an entire workforce to bring waste and any foreign object out of the nest, to be deposited neatly into the trash! They even have a graveyard for any ants that have died. But these bodies are not placed anywhere near the healthy nest, they are carried and deposited in a neat stack well away from home to avoid transmitting any disease. Leaf Cuttng Ants are the easiest, most interesting creatures to look after.
  • Buy from a source that offers after sales advice. You will need it. Andrew spends a great deal of time talking to customers and advising them. In fact we go a lot further. If we supply the housing and the colony to a commercial display and that client gives us regular reports on the progress of the colony, tells us how they are behaving etc etc for the first few months then we say that if the colony dies during this process we will replace it for free. No other livestock supplier of any type of animal or plant anywhere offers this guarantee. It means you can buy a colony of Leaf Cutting Ants as a display risk free. We are that certain you can look after these and make a good job of it.
         
Tropical House also offers the following services to Attractions around the world. We think you may be interested in taking a look. If your Leaf Cutting Ant display is for public viewing why not have us theme it like an Aztec Pyramid or an Inca Tomb. We host expeditions to Central America. The Trinidad expeditions page shows you how you can come with us and meet rare and unusual aminals up close in the Jungle. Theres lots more to see if you take a tour of the pages below.  
         
 Online Store Trinidad Expedition  Theming & Rockwork   Educational Resources Designs and Model Making 

 

 


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