Parallel foraging cycles for different resources in leaf-cutting ants: a clue to the mechanisms of rhythmic activity

Thomas Bochynek, Tanner L. James, Bernd Meyer, Martin Burd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


1. Leaf-cutting ants display regular diel cycles of foraging, but the regulatory mechanisms underlying these cycles are not well known. There are, however, some indications in the literature that accumulation of leaf tissue inside a nest dampens recruitment of foragers, thereby providing a negative feedback that can lead to periodic foraging. We investigated two foraging cycles occurring simultaneously in an Atta colombica colony, one involving leaf harvesting and the other exploiting an ephemeral crop of ripe fruit. 2. Leaf harvesting followed a typical diel pattern of a 10-12 h foraging bout followed by a period of inactivity, while fruit harvesting occurred continuously, but with a regular pre-dawn dip in activity that marked a 24 h cycle. 3. Although the results of the present study are drawn from a single field colony, the difference found is consistent with a mechanism of negative feedback regulation acting in parallel on two resources that differ in their rates of distribution and processing, creating cycles of formation and depletion of material caches. 4. This hypothesis should provoke further interest from students of ant behaviour and some simple manipulative experiments that would begin to test it are outlined. Any role of resource caches in regulating foraging by Atta colonies may have similarities to the logistics of warehouse inventories in human economic activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-852
Number of pages4
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Atta colombica
  • Cyclic behaviour
  • Foraging
  • Fungus gardening
  • Social insect

Cite this