Fungus gardens of the leafcutter ant Atta colombica function as egg nurseries for the snake Leptodeira annulata



Abstract

Attine ants are well known for their mutualistic symbiosis with fungus gardens, but many other symbionts and commensals have been described. Here, we report the discovery of two clusters of large snake eggs in neighboring fungus gardens of a mature Atta colombica colony. The eggs were completely embedded within the fungus garden and were ignored by the host ants, even when we placed them into another, freshly excavated fungus garden of the same colony. All five eggs contained embryos and two snakes eventually hatched, which we identified as being banded cat eyed snakes Leptodeira annulata L. Ant fungus gardens are likely to provide ideal climatic conditions for developing snake eggs and almost complete protection from egg predation. Our observations therefore indicate that mature banded cat eyed snakes are able to enter and oviposit in large and well defended Atta colonies without being attacked by ant soldiers and that also newly hatched snakes manage to avoid ant attacks when they leaving their host colony. We speculate that L. annulata might use Atta and Acromyrmex leafcutter ant colonies as egg nurseries by some form of chemical insignificance, but more work is needed to understand the details of this interaction.

Key Words

Social insects Reproduction Reptiles Ant–vertebrate interactions