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Leafcutter Ant (Atta cephalotes) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

General Appearance

  • See Bibliography sources and online descriptions (e.g., AntWeb, AntCat)



  • Visual system of A. cephalotes labor groups adapted to different working conditions (Arganda et al. 2020)
    • Below-ground workers have smaller eyes with high visual sensitivity
      • For working more time in the dark
    • Above-ground workers have larger eyes with high acuity (ability to recognize detail)
      • Sensitive to light
      • Adapted to bright light in the rainforest


Vibratory organ

  • Special organ on abdomen (gaster) produces vibrations (e.g., Markl 1965; Tautz et al. 1995; Roces and Hölldobler 1996; Wirth et al. 2003; Hölldobler and Wilson 2009; Hölldobler and Wilson 2011, and as noted)
    • Scraping structure rubs against a file-like structure
  • Increases leaf-cutting efficiency (Tautz et al. 1995)
    • Vibrations transferred to the leaf reduce force and energy needed to cut plant material
  • Vibrations summon help from nestmates, in tandem with pheromones (Roces and Hölldobler 1995; Hölldobler and Wilson 2009; Hölldobler and Wilson 2011, and as noted)
    • Recruit nestmates to food resources and possibly for nest building
    • Recruit small minim workers to hitchhike on leaves to defend larger foragers against parasitic flies
    • Alarm communication (Markl 1965)
      • Solicit help while fighting or restrained
      • Signal need for rescue, such as when buried under soil

Other senses

  • Atta colombica able to detect magnetic fields (Banks and Srygley 2003; Riveros and Srygley 2008; Riveros et al. 2014)
    • Not yet investigated in A. cephalotes

Leafcutter Ant

Close-up view of a leafcutter ant

Close-up view of a leafcutter ant's head and legs.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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