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Dave and Jan's travels, day 235:
Cutter ants

9th January
Cutter ants are odd critters. First of all, they only eat one specific fungus, so to ensure continued supplies, they farm this stuff in their nest. They need leaves for fertilizer, so the worker ants head out, find some leaves, chop them up, and carry a bit each back to base. Pretty soon there's a passing stream of apparently mobile pieces of leaves, which is a distinctly odd sight.

But there's more. One of the parasites that prey on these ants is a nasty little bug that buries into their brains to plant eggs. To combat this, a specialised and tiny subspecies of cutter ants always rides on the back of their larger brethren, poised to fend off such attacks. Back at base the fungus farmers are also the small guys, and they shred the leaves, add a little fungus to each shred, and fertilise same with a drop of their own carefully constituted urine.

Other specialities include the queen and the very large fighter ants, who do what you might expect. The queen eats different diets to control which species of egg she produces. The final oddity in all this is that every one of the ants is a woman. When the queen considers it time to launch a new colony, then she produces a few thousand males to form part of the colonising party, and they play the role you might expect. But otherwise men are not required in this world. (Why is that odd? - Ed)

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