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Ziggy's Leaf Cutters (Acromyrmex Octospinosus)

leafcutter leaf cutter leafcutters leaf cutters acromyrmex octospinosus ziggy

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#1 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 10 2022 - 5:33 AM

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When I was young, I briefly had leafcutter ants until my cat knocked over the formicarium and the queen disappeared. Over a decade years later I've decided to give it another go!


Building the dual layer formicarium

I initially built the enclosure using one box and a heat mat. But this caused so much condensation that I couldn't see inside the box, and since I knew I'd want to stare at the ants a bunch I looked for another solution. Condensation on the roof of the enclosure can also drip onto the fungus, which is bad for it.

Testing the single layer setup: After a day the condensation was so thick you couldn't see inside.
kyuQGh4.jpg?

There’s so much condensation you could barely see inside.
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Condensation forms when an object is a similar temperature to or cooler than the air. So if I want to remove condensation I'll have to heat the air around the formicarium, instead of the formicarium itself. I did this by combining two boxes, one smaller than the other, and heating the space in between. I also added a fan to distribute the air.

The final setup:
YOLeDhz.jpg

Here you can see the fan in the back (in the heat layer, not the fungus chamber). You can also see the water tube which lets me add water without opening the box.
gaqxeDP.jpg


I also bought a little security camera which lets me check on the ants when I'm outside the house. I think it looks a bit like a child pressing against the glass at a zoo or something. Lol.
JyAKiIo.jpg
 
I put together amazon lists for both the dual layer setup and the single layer setup which might save time for future DIYers
 
Single layer setup (£90)
https://www.amazon.c...ls/2EV0J6IMUZFZ
 
Dual layer setup with fans (£155)
https://www.amazon.c...s/1LOKE42YECXNT

Edited by ZiggyAnts, August 28 2022 - 9:13 AM.

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#2 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 10 2022 - 5:45 AM

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Day 1 (10/02/22)

Got the ants from Ants Davey (UK).

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They arrived well packaged, but the fungus ball was pulverised. Which is inevitable. The queen looked healthy with around 50-100 ants surviving the trip.

I put them into the box with some coconut fibre, a bunch of leaves and some dried rose petals.
SS5hjef.jpg2BPDGPg.jpg

Their first cutting! They seem to only be touching the dried petals, so maybe they're petal cutting ants, not leafcutters.


This ant can't quite lift the blade of grass they've chosen.


So far, they've spent most of their first day panicking, inspecting the entire box thoroughly, and rescuing the brood.




Day 3 (12/02/22)

They were having trouble getting out of their cup, so I gave them a stick which they almost exclusively use to get in and out of the cup now. I also gave them some flowers and rose leaves.

They spent most of day 2 and 3 ripping up the dried rose petals and occasionally bits of leaf. I'd say half ends up on their fungus and the other half is scattered on their floor. They're very messy ants!
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Also, I noticed lots of the ants are covered in what looks like dust. Apparently, some leafcutters cultivate an antibiotic on their bodies to help combat bad fungus in their garden.
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Day 5 (14/02/22)

They've started cutting more than ever! They demolished a rose leaf, some small flowers and lots of dried rose petals.
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It’s fun waking up and using the security camera to see what they did overnight. It’s a bit like Where's Waldo, but with ants:
1. Top left leaf was moved.
2. Petals taken.
3. Rose leaf gone.
yOFYi9q.png

Their fungus is slowly growing. This is day 2 vs day 5. there's a lot more structure and volume to the fungus.
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They spent days failing to close the gap in the cup, not realising that mud won't stick to the plastic. Last night they finally figured out how to balance mud such that it doesn't fall down.
paTpUCk.jpg

Leafcutters are great because there's always something going on. Here's a traffic jam with four ants wanting to get past each other.





Day 6 (16/02/22)

The fungus is growing, maybe a couple mm each day.
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They've jammed anything and everything into closing the gap in the cup.
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They've continued to make as much mess as possible. I'm regretting adding stones. Flat plaster would be easier to keep clean.

But they seem to really like flower petals and rose leaves.
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So, I gave them some more rose leaves.
WrfIQTP.jpg




Day 9 (19/02/22)

The fungus is growing lots every day.


I took off the lid to cut a hole so they could get in easier. The difference between the new grey fungus and the old orange fungus is cool.
pFfaTbd.jpg

When I took the lid off all the ants swarmed out of the fungus and made me realise there probably close to 100, more than I'd initially thought.




Day 44(26/03/22)

They’d outgrown their plastic cup so I transferred the fungus into an acrylic cube with a small entrance. This lets them more easily regulate the temperature and humidity of the fungus.

Here’s the chaos after the move.

DIhWQt5.jpg

They’re starting to rebuild their fungus, and plug up the hole.


Here they are after plugging the hole in their new fungus chamber.
ZoM3Oj5.jpg
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Day 67 (18/04/22)


Sometimes the fungus will fall over. This happened a few times in fact.





Day 90 (11/05/22)
More growth, another fall.

Some fun time lapses:







Day 137 (26/06/22)

Been a while since any updates. The colony is growing slowly and the fungus a few times bigger than last shown. But I moved house and we've had very hot weather which stunted them a little.
Here’s a time-lapse of them munching some leaves:


It's hard to take a picture of their inner box since it’s so humid, but you can see their numbers and fungus have grown lots.
f8nCdoj.jpg

I haven't been using the feeding chamber much since the timelapse camera won't catch them cutting the leaves in there.
But I'm thinking of having a longer connection between the chambers, maybe run it over my computer monitor so I can watch them as I work!
9A5rW2w.jpg

Their waste pile has grown considerably. Looking at my old pictures, I'm amazed at how clean it used to be! I need to give the walls a clean somehow.
P8vHR85.jpg

I have this small box that I was planning to let them use for waste, but I'm thinking it might be too small now.
RVnWLoO.jpg




Day 230 (27/08/22)

I moved the feeding pod to the other side of my desk and ran tubing behind my monitor. Its great watching them while working.

Y2wbYOb.jpg
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They filled out the inner box in a couple months! I removed the box which left a very cube shaped fungus.

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Day 236 (03/09/22)

The fungus keeps growing. Their rubbish has really started to pile up.
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Day 268 (04/10/22)

It keeps getting bigger!
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They’ve been getting lots of fresh leaves.
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Day 314 (20/12/22)

At this point the fungus is growing exponentially, and taking up ⅔ of the pod.
2lpqlHt.jpg

However their fungus changer is filthy since I hadn’t given them anywhere to put the rubbish. I’d also gotten lazy about washing the leaves which led to a bunch of gnats hatching and dying on the walls of the fungus pod. This, along with the rubbish piling up mean the fungus pod was disgusting.
saN4Psm.jpg

I was planning on making a second fungus pod over Christmas but I also had a difficult decision to make: Should I move the entire colony to this new pod, which would let me clean it, or just leave it as it is?




Day 321 (27/12/22)

I built the new fungus and rubbish pods!
F7kyvZB.jpg

The fungus pod is the same as the last one, except without a tube to add water. At this point the ants are able to manage humidity with the leaves they cut themselves.
gny6Nzm.jpg

I also built some new lids with extra ventilation for the feeding pod and rubbish pod using wire mesh and silicon. I’d rather it was one big hole for more ventilation, but this was the best I could do with the tools I had.
jPovQLp.jpg




Day 324 (30/12/22)

I moved the entire fungus. It was a nightmare!

I spent ages rehearsing all the steps I’d need to take and it still went a little pear shaped. I knew every movement I’d be taking. Remove the outer lids, disconnect the tubes, remove the inner box containing the fungus, plug all the oles.. Etc. Even with all the planning and preparation, I wasn’t looking forward to picking up what was basically a small football COVERED in ants. Literally covered.

What I didn’t see coming was the fungus disintegrating in my hands while it was in between the old and new pods. I’d been told the fungus would be strong enough to stay as one piece. But I guess that’s not always the case.

So instead of what I imagined, moving the entire fungus in one move, instead turned into me scooping handfuls of the fungus out of the old box and off my desk into the new clean pod. All while hundreds of ants are swarming out of both boxes and going everywhere.

After all the chaos was over, instead of one round fungus, the ants were left with a pile of fungus. I can only hope the queen was inside the fungus, and was unharmed in the move.
0IKZqO3.jpg

Here’s the old, filthy, fungus chamber! I spent a while watching this, to see if the queen would emerge from the tunnels they’d dug into their rubbish.
rQlTqUd.jpg

I left the old fungus chamber in a box whose walls were covered in PTFE, which is meant to prevent ants from climbing them. I had to leave for a new years party, intending to deal with them the next day. However when I returned, they managed to escape. There were probably 200 ants running around my room…




Day 326 (01/01/23)

Happy new year!

I cleaned out their old chamber, and attached everything. They now have a new second chamber and a rubbish pod, which they immediately started using.

Here’s their new setup.
L7E6Z9i.jpg




Day 330(05/01/23)

They’ve started rebuilding their fungus! It's definitely taken a massive blow, along with losing easily a couple hundred ants in the move.

The dark fungus is a healthy fungus and that brown fungus is likely dead or dying and they’ll eventually remove it.
ta5DrG9.jpg
N7ljPyH.jpg




Day 334(11/01/23)

Luckily they bounce back very quickly. Their fungus has rebuilt so much in just a few days.
kV7HOvc.jpg
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Day 339(15/01/22)
More growth!

They grow the fungus so quickly when they want to!


7QmJBu8.jpg
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They still haven’t touched their second fungus pod. I imagine it’ll stay this way until their first pod is mostly full.
d4tGoTz.jpg

They’re making good use of their new rubbish pod though!
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Happy ants foraging for leaves and petals.
Pvc2QqX.jpg


Here’s a bit of a setup tour.





Day 370(15/02/22)

In only a month they’ve exploded in size!

Jo8lrJq.jpg
ANiVm00.jpg

Edited by ZiggyAnts, February 15 2023 - 2:26 AM.

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#3 Offline NicholasP - Posted February 10 2022 - 1:38 PM

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You should never heat leafcutter ants. Usually with any form of heating the fungus starts dying and the colony is no more.


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#4 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 10 2022 - 2:58 PM

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I think you're repeating what Cheeto's guide says. He lives in Texas where it rarely goes below 24C.
 
I live in the UK where it averages like 14C lol. I need to heat these tropical ants.
 
None of the heat coils in the outer layer are touching the acrylic, and there's a fan spreading the heat so there aren't any overly hot areas. And the controller keeps the temperature between 23-24.5C.

Edited by ZiggyAnts, August 28 2022 - 3:04 AM.

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#5 Offline NicholasP - Posted February 10 2022 - 3:10 PM

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No. I'm not actually repeating whatever Cheeto says, in fact there's some things that I disagree with him on. I'm just saying my experience with Acromyrmex. I have kept over 3 Acromyrmex versicolor colonies and have a colony with multiple queens with around 150 workers. If it's so cold in the UK I'd recommend instead of using a heating cable just using the Heater if you have on built in your home. If you actually read Cheeto's profile it shows he lives in Arizona, not Texas. I'm not trying to be your enemy I'm just trying to give you a warning about what Acromyrmex need to survive so that they don't die. I also have over 2 years of experience in the ant keeping hobby so please don't act like you know everything. I'm just trying to help you here with information that can keep your colony alive, so you don't do what I did long ago.


Edited by NicholasP, February 10 2022 - 3:14 PM.

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#6 Offline NicholasP - Posted February 10 2022 - 3:11 PM

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By the way, Arizona is much warmer than Central America and Northern South America which is where Acromyrmex octospinosus come from and even when heating with a heating cable Acromyrmex versicolor still die. So, I'm just letting you know now.


Edited by NicholasP, February 10 2022 - 3:15 PM.

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#7 Offline NicholasP - Posted February 10 2022 - 3:19 PM

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And, if I'm not mistaken Acromyrmex Versicolor and Atta Mexicana ovaries inside the queens will start to disintegrate if they're in a too hot area for too long. So, I'd say to be safe use a heater instead of a heating cable.


Edited by NicholasP, February 10 2022 - 3:19 PM.

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#8 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 10 2022 - 3:20 PM

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I appreciate you looking out for me and I agree that turning up the heating is the best setup, but I'm in UK leaf cutting groups where lots of people have successful colonies using heating cables. So I just disagree is all.


Edited by ZiggyAnts, January 15 2023 - 1:37 AM.

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#9 Offline M_Ants - Posted February 10 2022 - 6:14 PM

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Does the fan just continuously run?


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Veromessor pergandei- 1 queens 50ish workers

Crematogaster sp. 

Acromyrmex

Various Pogonomyrmex

https://www.youtube....FG7utFVBA/about


#10 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 11 2022 - 12:42 AM

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Does the fan just continuously run?


Yeah. It's in the heat layer though, which is sealed from the fungus chamber. The fan is the key ingredient to having zero condensation.


Edited by ZiggyAnts, February 14 2022 - 4:14 AM.


#11 Offline Shazza - Posted February 11 2022 - 2:02 AM

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Good luck, il be following 😀
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#12 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted February 14 2022 - 4:29 AM

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Lots of updates added!



#13 Offline mmcguffi - Posted June 23 2022 - 9:24 AM

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Very cool that your Acromyrmex are (likely) covered in Pseudonocardia bacteria! They are symbionts that produce the antibiotic. I have an Atta colony that I love, though as a microbiologist I do sometimes wish I had an Acromyrmex colony so I could see this really neat interaction myself

 

Also, I know there was a somewhat heated (no pun intended) discussion about about your heat mat, but I can't +1 what @NicholasP said enough. I have seen that it's common for European attine owners to heat their fungus for whatever reason, but it's a very risky game with little reward. All leaf cutters no matter where they are found have an almost identical microenvironment for their fungus. The chambers underground are basically the same temp and humidity from Atta in Costa Rica to Acromyrmex in Arizona. Texas, where I live, also dips below freezing many times per year. Heating the fungus likely won't provide much benefit to growth at all, but if it ever gets above ~80F / 27C, there is huge risk of losing all the fungus. There is much less risk with having cooler-than-optimal temperatures. Fortuitously, optimal temps for the fungus are basically room temp, so as long as you aren't letting your house get below ~60F / 16C, there shouldn't be much risk (and even then it would maybe be fine). Either way, it seems to be fine for now, I would just caution that you are doing this at your own risk



#14 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted June 26 2022 - 6:55 AM

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Update added!



#15 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted August 27 2022 - 12:52 AM

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New update!



#16 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted August 27 2022 - 1:56 AM

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Very cool that your Acromyrmex are (likely) covered in Pseudonocardia bacteria! They are symbionts that produce the antibiotic. I have an Atta colony that I love, though as a microbiologist I do sometimes wish I had an Acromyrmex colony so I could see this really neat interaction myself

 

Also, I know there was a somewhat heated (no pun intended) discussion about about your heat mat, but I can't +1 what @NicholasP said enough. I have seen that it's common for European attine owners to heat their fungus for whatever reason, but it's a very risky game with little reward. All leaf cutters no matter where they are found have an almost identical microenvironment for their fungus. The chambers underground are basically the same temp and humidity from Atta in Costa Rica to Acromyrmex in Arizona. Texas, where I live, also dips below freezing many times per year. Heating the fungus likely won't provide much benefit to growth at all, but if it ever gets above ~80F / 27C, there is huge risk of losing all the fungus. There is much less risk with having cooler-than-optimal temperatures. Fortuitously, optimal temps for the fungus are basically room temp, so as long as you aren't letting your house get below ~60F / 16C, there shouldn't be much risk (and even then it would maybe be fine). Either way, it seems to be fine for now, I would just caution that you are doing this at your own risk

Yeah I was slightly concerned about their white coating before googling it   :/ . But its such an amazing adaptation, and the fact that its evolved to combat a parasitic fungus only found on leafcutter fungus. Amazing that the fungus, antibiotic and rival fungus all evolved with these ants!

 

The ants heating coils are controlled by a temperature probe so it never goes above 25C (77f). I get that you're saying that the benefits don't outweight the potential for an accident cooking, but there's endless accademic research showing the fungus growth is optimal around 24.5C in captivity.

eg https://resjournals.....1978.tb00922.x

https://journals.asm....1346-1350.1989

I don't mean this as an attack or anything, I just thoroughly disagree.


Edited by ZiggyAnts, August 27 2022 - 2:12 AM.

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#17 Offline NicholasP - Posted August 27 2022 - 11:51 AM

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I understand this is the U.K. and everything. But isn't there a way to heat the room itself up to that temperature? A space heater maybe?



#18 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted August 28 2022 - 2:57 AM

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Added lots of videos and time lapses in the middle. You can see a poor ant get wolloped by the fungus on day 67.

I particularly like the time lapse of the white roses being eaten on day 90. They loved those roses.

Edited by ZiggyAnts, August 28 2022 - 2:59 AM.


#19 Offline Flu1d - Posted October 8 2022 - 6:26 AM

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How're they doing now in October?! I'm excited to see :)
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#20 Offline ZiggyAnts - Posted January 11 2023 - 3:24 AM

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I've added a bunch of updates! Everything from day 236 onwards!


Edited by ZiggyAnts, January 11 2023 - 3:27 AM.

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