Snow leopards, monkeys, snakes and lemurs beaten in wildlife popularity poll by a tiny insect...

The humble leaf cutter

The humble leaf cutter

First published in News The Westmorland Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Assistant editor

VISITORS to a South Cumbrian wildlife charity have voted the humble ants as their favourite creatures.

Lakeland Wildlife Oasis has snow leopards, marmoset monkeys, snakes and newborn lemurs – but it is the Leafcutter Ants which spend their time moving bits of plant along a rope from one platform to another that have stolen people’s hearts.

When zoo boss Jo Marsden opened a feedback book to see which animals people liked best she soon found out who the stars were.

Jo said: “We’ve had Leafcutter Ants for years and they’ve always been popular – now we know just how popular. People tell us it’s because of their constant activity.”

Leafcutters come from South America where they are regarded as a pest. In the wild their nest can be the size of a tennis court and they are extremely destructive.

Jo said: “The nests only ever come from the wild and countries want to export them. They’re found as young colonies and dug up and brought to England.

“If we left them to it they would take over the whole place.”

With so many other attractions, the zoo near Milnthorpe is keeping its Leafcutter Ants down to two containers.

Given a steady supply of leaves, an established colony can keep going for up to 15 years, as long as the colony’s queen is alive.

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