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Fungus gardeners

Duration: 03:35

Grass-cutting ants are vegetarian and use their jaws to saw through plants and carry off the pieces. Grass is made up mainly of cellulose which is very difficult to digest. Termites digest it with the help of bacteria in their gut but grass-cutting ants have a different technique. They carry the pieces of grass back to their nest which may reach 80 horizontal feet through the earth and have as many as 2,000 interlinked chambers. Such a nest may contain as many as twenty million ants. The workers carry their cuttings deep into the nest where they feed the grass to a crumbly white fungus that grows nowhere else but in these nests. The ants cut up the grass into smaller pieces, clean it thoroughly, remove the waxy exterior and then put it in the fungus. The fungus then digests the grass and the ants feed off the fungus. The ants tend their fungus garden with great care, removing dead fungus and leaves. These they carry 20 feet below ground to their refuse tips which also act as cemeteries, as this is where they also bring dead workers.

Available since: Wed 2 Mar 2011

This clip is from

The Living Planet Seas of Grass

5/12 David Attenborough explores the grasslands of the Americas, Eurasia and Africa.

First broadcast: 16 Feb 1984

Image for Seas of Grass Not currently available on BBC iPlayer

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