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Leafcutter Ant (Atta cephalotes) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat


Wide distribution in the Neotropics

(e.g., Hölldobler and Wilson 1990; Montoya-Lerma et al. 2006; Solomon 2007; Fernández et al. 2015)

  • Southern Mexico to Brazil
    • Caribbean island reports from Trinidad and Bocas del Toro (Panama) (Brent 1886; Hölldobler and Wilson 1990; Solomon 2007)
      • Dispersal to islands limited by flight range of queens
  • Main countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela

Elevation range

  • Approximately 0–2,000 m (0–7,000 ft) asl (Solomon 2007; Sandoval-Arango et al. 2020)


Rainforests and plant-dense ecosystems

  • Tropical forests with significant precipitation (Weber 1969; Solomon 2007)
    • Rarely far from forest cover
  • Generally, most humid, lowland forests in Central and South America (Solomon 2007)
  • Specializes in forest gaps (e.g., Hölldobler and Wilson 1990; Urbas et al. 2007; Meyer et al. 2009; Hölldobler and Wilson 2011; Meyer et al. 2011b; da Silva et al. 2018)

Human-modified landscapes

  • Adapts well to human-disturbed habitat areas (Farji-Brener 2001; Bustamante et al. 2020)
    • Forest converted to pastures (Fowler 1983; Bustamante et al. 2020)
    • Forest edges and fragments (Rao 2000; Wirth et al. 2007)
      • Higher Atta densities where plants are water-stressed (e.g., Vasconcelos and Cherrett 1996; S. T. Meyer et al. 2006; da Silva et al. 2018)
    • Roadsides (Vasconcelos et al. 2006)
  • Bare soil created by road construction may attract dispersing queens (reported for Atta laevigata) (Vasconcelos et al. 2006)
  • Varón et al. (2011) observed higher ant densities on coffee farms in monocultured and fallow fields, as well as plots with lower levels of shade

Wide Distribution in Central and South America

Distribution map for Atta cephalotes, leafcutter ant

Atta cephalotes lives in and near humid forests from southern Mexico to Brazil.

It also commonly occurs in agricultural fields, pastures, gardens, roadside areas, and some cities with adequate forest cover.

Adapted from

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