These “parasol ants” use the leaves neither as umbrella nor as food. They are the “farmer” ants, growing their own supply of food and the leaves are the organic manure for their crop! Another name for these ant is Leaf Cutter Ant.
Once inside their nest, these ants chew up the leaves to a smooth pulp and wet it with a drop of liquid from the tip of their abdomen. It is then added to similarly treated piles on which a fungus grows. The ants then plant fungus on this new pulp and tend it growth.The other ants walk over the crops adding more drops of liquid from their abdomen.
For the parasol ants, the fungus is the sole source of food. Cultivation is vital for their survival. The ant gardens are enormous labyrinths of chambers underground, extending up to 12 feet below the ground level.
A six-year-old ant nest was found to be created by shifting a massive 40 tons of earth, to make 1920 chambers, to accommodate 44,000 ants. This colony had stripped trees of an estimated 6 tons of leaves!
Though the fungus flourishes in the ant farms, it perishes quickly in the wild. Scientists wondered whether the liquid from the abdomen contained antibiotics to protect the fungus.
But later it was found that the liquid drops contained only powerful fertilizers and nutrients. These helped the fungus to overcome all competitions and grow steadily–thus ensuring plenty of food supply for the hard working farmer ants.