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Is Leaf Cutter Ant Fungus edible for humans?

leaf cutter fungus

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18 replies to this topic

#1 Offline Reevak - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:14 PM

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I was just thinking about it. Has anyone tried it? Also, can mites infest the fungus (or anything else for that matter)?


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#2 Offline Leptomyrmx - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:17 PM

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Hm, I'd never thought about that... I'd assume not, since most fungi aren't, but who knows.


My Ants:

Colonies: Camponotus humilior 1w, Opisthopsis rufithorax 11w, Aphaenogaster longiceps ~5w, Pheidole sp. ~235w ~15m, Iridomyrmex sp. 2q 1w, Brachyponera lutea 6w, Crematogaster sp. ~20w, Podomyrma sp. 1w

Queens: Polyrhachis cf. robinsoni, Polyrhachis (Campomyrma) sp. (likely infertile)

Previously Kept: Colobopsis gasseri, Technomyrmex sp., Rhytidoponera victorae, Nylanderia cf. rosae, Myrmecia brevinoda/forficata, Polyrhachis australis, Solenopsis/Monomorium

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#3 Offline KadinB - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:17 PM

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I would like to know this to. I think I heard that mites and other fungus/mold can harm the leaf cutter ants fungus. I am not to sure of that though so don't take my word lol.



#4 Offline NancyZamora4991 - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:26 PM

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well there's one way to find out


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#5 Offline NancyZamora4991 - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:39 PM

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I saw somewhere that some guy knows a guy that knows a guy who tried it and he said it tastes metallic. 

https://www.reddit.c..._fungus_edible/


Edited by NancyZamora4991, September 20 2021 - 8:39 PM.

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#6 Offline CheetoLord02 - Posted September 20 2021 - 8:53 PM

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The fungus, at least in small quantities, is edible. At the least it doesn't seem to be toxic. I haven't tried it myself, but a friend who also keep Atta says it just tastes like water.

Also, mites can infest the fungus. I haven't had the issue personally, but grain mites are known to be a pretty big headache for Atta keepers.


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#7 Offline Chickalo - Posted September 21 2021 - 4:13 AM

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The fungus, at least in small quantities, is edible. At the least it doesn't seem to be toxic. I haven't tried it myself, but a friend who also keep Atta says it just tastes like water.

Also, mites can infest the fungus. I haven't had the issue personally, but grain mites are known to be a pretty big headache for Atta keepers.

Doesn't water have, like, no taste?   I'm probably just being stupid but how do you taste hydrogen and oxygen, a bit wack


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#8 Offline futurebird - Posted September 21 2021 - 4:22 AM

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I wonder what the nutritional content is. To keep ants healthy it must have protein and sugars. It's a complete food and it can be grown on many kinds of vegetation. 

 

Although, I did see one study that said that adult leafcutter ants get a lot of sugar from the process of cutting leaves. They drink a bit of the juice in the leaf as they cut it.

 

But, if it is a "complete food" the fungus might have industrial applications in making processed foods. 


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#9 Offline Kaelwizard - Posted September 21 2021 - 6:01 AM

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The fungus, at least in small quantities, is edible. At the least it doesn't seem to be toxic. I haven't tried it myself, but a friend who also keep Atta says it just tastes like water.

Also, mites can infest the fungus. I haven't had the issue personally, but grain mites are known to be a pretty big headache for Atta keepers.

Doesn't water have, like, no taste?   I'm probably just being stupid but how do you taste hydrogen and oxygen, a bit wack

 

If you've ever gotten a water softener you would know that water can taste different than it did without one.



#10 Offline PetsNotPests - Posted September 21 2021 - 6:06 AM

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I was just thinking about it. Has anyone tried it? Also, can mites infest the fungus (or anything else for that matter)?

This might just be the best question ever asked on formiculture  :lol:


Ants are Pets, not Pests. 

 

-Camponotus sansabeanus

-Camponotus US-CA02

-Camponotus vicinus

-Formica podzolica

-Monomorium spp.

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-Solenopsis spp. 

 


#11 Offline DDD101DDD - Posted September 21 2021 - 6:28 AM

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The fungus, at least in small quantities, is edible. At the least it doesn't seem to be toxic. I haven't tried it myself, but a friend who also keep Atta says it just tastes like water.

Also, mites can infest the fungus. I haven't had the issue personally, but grain mites are known to be a pretty big headache for Atta keepers.

Doesn't water have, like, no taste?   I'm probably just being stupid but how do you taste hydrogen and oxygen, a bit wack

 

 

It does have a taste, there can be minerals and stuff in the water depending on where you are that makes it taste different.
 


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#12 Offline Chickalo - Posted September 21 2021 - 7:21 AM

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The fungus, at least in small quantities, is edible. At the least it doesn't seem to be toxic. I haven't tried it myself, but a friend who also keep Atta says it just tastes like water.

Also, mites can infest the fungus. I haven't had the issue personally, but grain mites are known to be a pretty big headache for Atta keepers.

Doesn't water have, like, no taste?   I'm probably just being stupid but how do you taste hydrogen and oxygen, a bit wack

 

 

It does have a taste, there can be minerals and stuff in the water depending on where you are that makes it taste different.
 

 

And this is where I quote, "probably just being stupid"


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#13 Offline TestSubjectOne - Posted September 21 2021 - 8:08 AM

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I wonder what the nutritional content is. To keep ants healthy it must have protein and sugars. It's a complete food and it can be grown on many kinds of vegetation. 

 

Although, I did see one study that said that adult leafcutter ants get a lot of sugar from the process of cutting leaves. They drink a bit of the juice in the leaf as they cut it.

 

But, if it is a "complete food" the fungus might have industrial applications in making processed foods. 

Atta fungus relies on the constant care of workers for cleaning foreign fungus, applying protecting chemicals and providing leaves for food. I believe that there was an experiment where the workers were removed from a fungus garden and it was swiftly eaten away by foreign fungus. Fungus as food is a good idea, but leafcutter fungus can't function without care from ants.


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Currently Keeping:

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- Crematogaster sp. (1 queen, 600 workers)

- Liometopum occidentale (1 queen, 800 workers)

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#14 Offline futurebird - Posted September 21 2021 - 3:34 PM

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We have domesticated bees... why not ants too?


Starting this July I'm posting videos of my ants every week on youTube.

I like to make relaxing videos that capture the joy of watching ants.

If that sounds like your kind of thing... follow me >here<


#15 Offline AntBoi3030 - Posted September 21 2021 - 4:19 PM

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The internet be like:

Attached Images

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My favorite queens/colony’s:
Pheidole Tysoni, Selonopis Molesta, Brachymyrmex Depilis, Tetramorium Immagrians, Prenolepis Imparis, Pheidole Bicirinata 


#16 Offline SoySauce - Posted September 21 2021 - 4:31 PM

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The internet be like:


That’s too funny! What’s up with kids these days wanting to try to eat things that they shouldn’t like Tide pods and ant fungus???!!!

Edited by SoySauce, September 21 2021 - 4:31 PM.

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#17 Offline mmcguffi - Posted September 22 2021 - 10:09 AM

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Most attine fungus is closely related to the common flowerpot mushroom: https://en.wikipedia...inus_birnbaumii This fungus is moderately toxic to humans. While these mushrooms are not the same species as the species Atta and Acromyrmex farm, they do share a relatively recent common ancestor

 

tldr; probably safe to eat a small amount but I would not recommend it

 

 

 Fungus as food is a good idea, but leafcutter fungus can't function without care from ants.

 

This is actually a misconception. There is good evidence that some strains of the fungus that Atta farm periodically "return to nature" and grow independently from the ants. If I remember correctly (I would have to re-read some papers), there is direct evidence that some Cyphomyrmex fungus is definitively found both cultivated by ants and also "wild".

 

It is also pretty trivial to culture Atta fungus on agar plates, which I have done: https://www.formicul...owers/?p=185045


Edited by mmcguffi, September 22 2021 - 10:14 AM.


#18 Offline CheetoLord02 - Posted September 22 2021 - 10:21 AM

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Most attine fungus is closely related to the common flowerpot mushroom: https://en.wikipedia...inus_birnbaumii This fungus is moderately toxic to humans. While these mushrooms are not the same species as the species Atta and Acromyrmex farm, they do share a relatively recent common ancestor

 

tldr; probably safe to eat a small amount but I would not recommend it

 

 

 Fungus as food is a good idea, but leafcutter fungus can't function without care from ants.

 

This is actually a misconception. There is good evidence that some strains of the fungus that Atta farm periodically "return to nature" and grow independently from the ants. If I remember correctly (I would have to re-read some papers), there is direct evidence that some Cyphomyrmex fungus is definitively found both cultivated by ants and also "wild".

 

It is also pretty trivial to culture Atta fungus on agar plates, which I have done: https://www.formicul...owers/?p=185045

Higher attines are classified as such based on their fungus being obligate mutualists with the ants. Cyphomyrmex, being lower attines, should absolutely have fungus that is able to survive without the ants. That said, I am highly skeptical that higher attine fungus could survive outside of the colony for extended periods of time, especially in the wild. The fungus seems to have almost no resistance to pathogens and even other fungi, and without constant care from the ants it will quickly become infected or overrun with disease or foreign fungi. 

"While the fungal cultivars of the 'lower' attine ants can survive outside an ant colony, those of 'higher' attine ants are obligate mutualists, meaning they cannot exist without one another."

I could only really see higher attine fungus surviving alone in artificial agar setups or otherwise (mostly) sterile environments. I've only seen it with Atta texana and Acromyrmex versicolor fungus, and even then both instances were not regularly updated so I'm not sure how long they survived or if that type of setup was sustainable long-term.



#19 Offline mmcguffi - Posted September 22 2021 - 10:50 AM

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Most attine fungus is closely related to the common flowerpot mushroom: https://en.wikipedia...inus_birnbaumii This fungus is moderately toxic to humans. While these mushrooms are not the same species as the species Atta and Acromyrmex farm, they do share a relatively recent common ancestor

 

tldr; probably safe to eat a small amount but I would not recommend it

 

 

 Fungus as food is a good idea, but leafcutter fungus can't function without care from ants.

 

This is actually a misconception. There is good evidence that some strains of the fungus that Atta farm periodically "return to nature" and grow independently from the ants. If I remember correctly (I would have to re-read some papers), there is direct evidence that some Cyphomyrmex fungus is definitively found both cultivated by ants and also "wild".

 

It is also pretty trivial to culture Atta fungus on agar plates, which I have done: https://www.formicul...owers/?p=185045

Higher attines are classified as such based on their fungus being obligate mutualists with the ants. Cyphomyrmex, being lower attines, should absolutely have fungus that is able to survive without the ants. That said, I am highly skeptical that higher attine fungus could survive outside of the colony for extended periods of time, especially in the wild. The fungus seems to have almost no resistance to pathogens and even other fungi, and without constant care from the ants it will quickly become infected or overrun with disease or foreign fungi. 

"While the fungal cultivars of the 'lower' attine ants can survive outside an ant colony, those of 'higher' attine ants are obligate mutualists, meaning they cannot exist without one another."

I could only really see higher attine fungus surviving alone in artificial agar setups or otherwise (mostly) sterile environments. I've only seen it with Atta texana and Acromyrmex versicolor fungus, and even then both instances were not regularly updated so I'm not sure how long they survived or if that type of setup was sustainable long-term.

 

 

Again, this is a common misconception. Here is a passage from Ulrich Mueller's 2002 paper "Ant versus fungus versus mutualism: ant-cultivar conflict and the deconstruction of the attine ant-fungus symbiosis". https://pubmed.ncbi....h.gov/18707454/

 

 

 

Two observations have led to the long-standing assump- tion that attine cultivars are obligately dependent on their hosts and cannot escape from the symbiosis to lead an independent, nonsymbiotic existence: laboratory gardens generally deteriorate when abandoned by ant hosts (Goetsch and Stoppel 1940; Muchovej and Della Lucia 1990; Currie et al. 1999a; Currie 2001a), and cultivars are outcompeted by most contaminant fungi and bacteria when grown in artificial culture in the laboratory (Weber 1955, 1972; Stradling and Powell 1986; C. R. Currie, per- sonal communication; U. G. Mueller, personal observa- tion). The cultivars’ apparent inability to survive inde- pendently has traditionally been ascribed to their long coevolutionary association with ants, an association that, over time, has led to loss of crucial fungal adaptations for a free-living life. The view of cultivar frailty outside the symbiosis has been particularly promulgated by Weber, who argued repeatedly (Weber 1938, 1955, 1966, 1972, 1982) that “the fungi are clearly unable to maintain them- selves and do not grow except under the care of the ants” (Weber 1955, p. 109).

While it is true that garden deterioration and aban- donment by the ants are frequently linked, Weber’s con- clusion of cultivar dependency needs to be qualified. First, the causal relationship between abandonment by the ants and garden deterioration in the lab is often unclear, and it may be that the ants abandon the garden because de- terioration has already progressed to an unrecuperable stage (e.g., the garden is hopelessly invaded by the parasite Escovopsis, which can cause immediate abandonment by the ants). Garden deterioration therefore may not be the consequence of, but rather the cause for, ant abandon- ment, at least in some instances. Second, while experi- mental removal of ants can trigger garden deterioration in the lab (Weber 1972; Currie et al. 1999a; U. G. Mueller, personal observation), a decline of the garden in the ab- sence of ants is not inevitable. For example, ant gardens in the lab can persist for months after their ant hosts die off, and such gardens eventually perish because of desic- cation, not because they are overwhelmed by alien mi- croorganisms (T. R. Schultz, personal communication; U. G. Mueller, personal observation). Third, cultivar devas- tation by alien fungi under competition in a garden en- vironment does not imply that the cultivar would pre- dictably fail in a free-living existence. That is, the cultivar may be perfectly capable of independent survival under certain ecological conditions but may be unable to do so in a garden environment without the help of the ants. An analogous argument applies to human-cultivated mush- rooms, which can easily be outcompeted when left alone in artificial, human-manipulated growth environments (which are designed for high mushroom yield and easy harvesting by humans) but which do perfectly well under the ecological conditions to which they are naturally adapted. Fourth, and following the same kind of reasoning of the preceding point, most basidiomycetes are quickly overwhelmed on artificial culture plates by fast-growing contaminant ascomycete fungi, but these basidiomycetes are clearly capable of a free-living existence. Consequently, the widely cited observation that attine cultivars are gen- erally overwhelmed by alien fungi when grown under the artificial conditions of a culture plate is meaningless and has no bearing on the cultivars’ competitive ability in a free-living state under ecological conditions to which they may be adapted.

The strongest evidence undermining the assumption that cultivars cannot lead a free-living existence comes from a recent phylogenetic analysis of lower-attine culti- vars and their free-living leucocoprineous relatives (Mueller et al. 1998; fig. 1). An analysis of a fast-evolving gene region (ITS) identified two free-living counterparts that were identical to cultivars propagated by attine ants (fig. 1A, 1B). This indicated that either the counterparts had recently escaped from the symbiosis with ants and had reentered a free-living existence, or that the ants had re- cently acquired a cultivar from free-living populations (of which the counterparts were representatives). Under the latter scenario, the recency of the ant-fungus association may well permit the cultivar to escape from the symbiosis because the adaptations necessary for independent exis- tence may not have been lost during the evolutionarily short association with ants.

It is important to stress that the identification of free- living counterparts in Mueller et al.’s (1998) survey was based on broad collections of sympatric free-living and symbiotic leucocoprineous fungi in central Panama, and that this was the first such survey ever conducted (fig. 1). This suggests that a more exhaustive survey, including col- lections from Amazonian South America (the putative lo- cation of the attine origin; Mueller et al. 2001), may reveal many additional counterparts of other attine cultivars. In- deed, at this point one cannot exclude the possibility that most, if not all, attine cultivars have free-living counter- parts and that import of novel cultivars into the symbiosis is an ongoing process occurring in all attine lineages, with the possible exception of some highly derived attine sys- tems (e.g., the leaf-cutter ants; see “Conflict over Cultivar Sexuality”). Additional surveys of free-living leucocopri- neous populations clearly will help to resolve these issues.

 

In regard to the "the possible exception of some highly derived attine systems" clause at the end there, more evidence has since 2002 has shed light on the probability of the sometimes free-living nature of "higher attine" fungus. Several strains of Acromyrmex fungus will routinely fruit (ie: make literal mushrooms) after the ants have abandoned a garden chamber. This has also been observed in some Atta nests as well. If the "total domestication" hypothesis was correct, one would expect the genes for sexual reproduction (ie: make mushrooms) to quickly be lost, but this is clearly not the case.

 

Furthermore, "lower attines" is a paraphyletic grouping of ants -- it does not have taxonomic significance. In fact, most of the "lower attines" cultivate fungus that that shares a recent common ancestor with the "high attines", indicating that Leucoagaricus gongylophorus was likely domesticated once. 

 

To be clear, this is still an open question, though there is good evidence that the "higher attines" have not fully domesticated thier fungi. If anyone would want to read the fantastic paper I quoted above but cannot find a copy, DM me


Edited by mmcguffi, September 22 2021 - 10:55 AM.






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