Chiswell Green colony of leafcutter ants meets a shocking demise

Leafcutter ants carrying hearts along ropes to their queen

Leafcutter ants carrying hearts along ropes to their queen - Credit: Archant

A freak accident at a leading conservation attraction in St Albans has killed off the country’s biggest colony of leafcutter ants.

Some of the insects reportedly chewed through electrical wiring in their display at Butterfly World, that has been there for four years, which led to them being electrocuted.

Because of this, the colony dwindled in size and the queen ant died meaning that no more eggs were being laid and the remaining ants fought and killed one another.

Now they are having to be replaced by an ant specialist who has gone to the rainforest in Trinidad to find a suitable queen.

Claudine Fontana, marketing assistant at the Chiswell Green wildlife centre, said: “This has never happened before, it was a freak accident. Obviously we are going to address this again. As a result of the accident, we have commissioned Andrew Stephenson from Zoologica Exhibition to find and bring us back a new queen leaf cutter ant from the rainforests of Trinidad.”

Andrew works with local farming communities and pays the farmers not to kill the ant colonies so he can collect them before planting season when they otherwise would have been exterminated to make way for crops.

Claudine went on: “It is a fascinating endeavour involving local farming communities, hunting for the queen through huge chambers, extracting fungus gardens, getting severely bitten and transporting around 10,000 ants back on a plane where they will settle and flourish in their new home.”

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She added that it appeared more than one ant had gnawed through the wire and that the ants were well known in their home country for their strength: “In the rain forest when the native people would get a wound they used to use leaf cutter ant jaws to cut away the flesh.”

The new colony will be introduced to Butterfly World in mid-June.