The Virtual Rainforest
A Neotropical Rainforest
Rainforest Research


Tree Seedlings

Forest Flowers



Army Ants

Bullet Ants
Leafcutter Ants

Rhinoceros Beetle

Swallowtail Butterfly



Keel-billed Toucan

Howler Monkeys

White-faced Monkeys

Three-toed Sloth
Baird's Tapir
White-lipped Peccary
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Poison Dart Frog
Helmeted Iguana
Eyelash Viper
Terciopelo Viper
Spectacled Caiman
American Crocodile
Human Systems:
Rainforest Boy
Rainforest Girl
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Rainforest Research

About the Authors






Army Ants (Eciton hamatum and Eciton burchelli)

In the tropical rainforest, ants are everywhere. Ants are the most abundant animals, and their total "biomass," or how much they all weight when put together, is heavier than any other group of animals in the rainforest.

There are many different kinds of ants in a tropical forest. In fact, the famous researcher named E. O. Wilson found over 200 species of ants on a single tree!

Army Ant - Eciton hamatum

The picture to the right is a swarm of army ants, named because they run around in giant raiding groups. Army ants eat other ants and any kinds of insects or arthropods they can find on the forest floor. They are of little danger to humans and other mammals, although the majors (the ones with the big heads) can bite pretty hard.

Army Ants - Eciton burchelli

Leafcutter Ants (Atta cephalotes)

These little ants do a lot of big work in the rainforest. You will usually see worker ants following each other single file into and out of their underground nests. Worker ants carry pieces of leaves along well built trails into the nest. A smaller pilot "hitchhiker" ant usually protects the leaf and the worker ant from pesky parasites (wasps, phorid fly). Without the protection from this tiny ant the entire colony could be destroyed due to infestation from parasite eggs. The worker ant carries the leaves to smaller workers which chew the leaf into smaller pieces, making it all sticky. The sticky leaf mass is then added to the fungus garden that the ant colony eats. The ant needs to defecate (poop) on the leaves in order for the fungus to grow. All of the ants work to take care of the fungus garden, growing fungus just like we grow food. They have help from a bacterium that grows right on their bodies. The bacterium protects the garden from disease. These ants are very sensitive about the needs of their gardens and ‘talk’ to them with chemical signals. They are very important to the rainforest ecosystem.

Bullet Ant - Paraponera clavata

Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata)

The Bullet Ant got its name because it's sting feels like being shot by a bullet. It is the most painful sting of any of the Neotropical rainforest's ants. Bullet Ants get up to one inch or 2.5 cm in length.

Ants are related to bees and wasps, all belonging the insect order, Hymenoptera. Some ants sting like the bullet ant, and some do not even have stingers. Others use acid to burn your skin.

Check out the video of Bullet Ants coming out of their den below.



The Virtual Rainforest

Back to the Rainforest

Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University

Students and teachers have permission to quote text and use images from this website in class assignments. Images may be used in classroom and academic presentations with notification of author. All other use should request permission.


Virtual Rainforest development supported by grant #0815966 from the
National Science Foundation

Center for Global Change and Earth Observation

Michigan State University