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Atta cephalotes
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Atta
Fabricius, 1804
Type species
Formica cephalotes, now Atta cephalotes
20 species
(Species Checklist, Species by Country)

Atta cephalotes casent0173617 profile 1.jpg

Atta cephalotes

Atta cephalotes casent0173617 dorsal 1.jpg

Specimen Label

Evolutionary Relationships

Cyatta (1 species), Kalathomyrmex (1 species)

  (4 species)

  (2 species)

  (23 species)

  (21 species)

  (4 species)

  (31 species)

  (11 species)

  (1 species)

  (9 species)

  (9 species)

  (3 species)

  (55 species)

  (20 species)

Based on Ward et al. (2014), Blaimer et al. (2018), Li et al. (2018) and Cristiano et al. (2020).

A genus of fungus growing ants. Leafcutter ants obligately cultivate clonally propagated fungus inside their nest as their main source of food. Larval and adult ants eat fungal mycelium from their fungus gardens, as well as clusters (“staphylae”) of modified hyphal tips (“gongylidia”). Nests of some species can be physically very large and consist of millions of workers. (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990, Dijkstra and Boomsma 2006).

At a Glance • Fungus Grower  



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Keys including this Genus


Keys to Species in this Genus


Distribution and Richness based on AntMaps


Atta species have a profound influence on the habitats where they live. A review by Swanson et al. (2019) summarized what has been found about their ecological effects on ecosystems: abstract - Leaf-cutter ants are a prominent feature in Neotropical ecosystems, but a comprehensive assessment of their effects on ecosystem functions is lacking. We reviewed the literature and used our own recent findings to identify knowledge gaps and develop a framework to quantify the effects of leaf-cutter ants on ecosystem processes. Leaf-cutter ants disturb the soil structure during nest excavation changing soil aeration and temperature. They mix relatively nutrient-poor soil from deeper layers with the upper organic-rich layers increasing the heterogeneity of carbon and nutrients within nest soils. Leaf-cutter ants account for about 25% of all herbivory in Neotropical forest ecosystems, moving 10%-15% of leaves in their foraging range to their nests. Fungal symbionts transform the fresh, nutrient-rich vegetative material to produce hyphal nodules to feed the ants. Organic material from roots and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi enhances carbon and nutrient turnover in nest soils and creates biogeochemical hot spots. Breakdown of organic matter, microbial and ant respiration, and nest waste material decomposition result in increased CO2, CH4, and N2O production, but the build-up of gases and heat within the nest is mitigated by the tunnel network ventilation system. Nest ventilation dynamics are challenging to measure without bias, and improved sensor systems would likely solve this problem. Canopy gaps above leaf-cutter ant nests change the light, wind and temperature regimes, which affects ecosystem processes. Nests differ in density and size depending on colony age, forest type and disturbance level and change over time resulting in spatial and temporal changes of ecosystem processes. These characteristics remain a challenge to evaluate rapidly and non-destructively. Addressing the knowledge gaps identified in this synthesis will bring insights into physical and biological processes driving biogeochemical cycles at the nest and ecosystem scale and will improve our understanding of ecosystem biogeochemical heterogeneity and larger scale ecological phenomena.

Dijkstra and Boomsma (2006) investigated the viability of worker-produced eggs in Atta cephalotes, Atta sexdens and Atta colombica. Most Atta workers have rudimentary, non-functional ovaries in a queenright colony but a few, typically tending the queen, can produce trophic eggs (Dijkstra et al., 2005). These eggs are feed to the queen. It was not known if any worker eggs can produce males. This study found, and concluded: Atta workers are not completely infertile, but worker fertility is low compared to the sister genus Acromyrmex, where workers routinely produce normally-size males after queen loss in the laboratory. Most worker eggs did not contain yolk but a small number did and yielded morphologically correct but very small males. They hypothesize that worker reproduction in orphaned Atta field colonies is almost never successful because the last workers die before their sons can be raised to adulthood, but the importance of worker-laid trophic eggs for queen feeding has precluded the evolutionary loss of worker ovaries.

Association with Other Organisms

Species Uncertain

An unknown species is a host for the phorid fly Apocephalus vicosae (

All Associate Records for Genus

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Taxon Relationship Associate Type Associate Taxon Associate Relationship Locality Source Notes
Atta host phorid fly Apocephalus vicosae parasite attacked
Atta cephalotes host fungus Ophiocordyceps unilaterialis pathogen Asia, North and South America Shrestha et al., 2017
Atta cephalotes host milichiid fly Milichiella argenteocincta myrmecophile Argentina, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominica, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Alabama, Florida Brake, 2009; Milichiidae online
Atta cephalotes host milichiid fly Pholeomyia comans myrmecophile Moser & Neff, 1971; Milichiidae online
Atta cephalotes host milichiid fly Pholeomyia texensis myrmecophile Texas Waller, 1980; Milichiidae online
Atta cephalotes host phorid fly Apocephalus asymmetricus parasite attacked
Atta cephalotes host phorid fly Apocephalus ritualis parasite attacked
Atta cephalotes host phorid fly Apocephalus spinosus parasite attacked
Atta colombica host phorid fly Apocephalus colombicus parasite attacked
Atta laevigata host phorid fly Apocephalus attophilus parasite attacked
Atta laevigata host phorid fly Eibesfeldtphora parasite Souza & Pereira, 2020
Atta laevigata host phorid fly Myrmosicarius parasite Souza & Pereira, 2020
Atta laevigata host sarcophagid fly Helicobia sp. parasite Brazil Barganca et al., 2020
Atta mexicana host pteromalid wasp Spalangia attae parasite Universal Chalcidoidea Database associate
Atta sexdens host phorid fly Apocephalus attophilus parasite Farder-Gomes et al., 2020
Atta sexdens host phorid fly Eibesfeldtphora tonhascai parasite Farder-Gomes et al., 2020; Souza & Pereira, 2020 Souza & Pereira, 2020 - genus-level identification only
Atta sexdens host phorid fly Myrmosicarius parasite Souza & Pereira, 2020 very rare
Atta sexdens host phorid fly Neodohrniphora sp. parasite Braganca et al., 1998
Atta texana host diapriid wasp Coptera pholeomyiae parasite potential host
Atta texana host milichiid fly Pholeomyia comans myrmecophile Moser & Neff, 1971; Muesebeck, 1980 associated with or potential host
Atta texana host milichiid fly Pholeomyia texensis myrmecophile Texas Waller, 1980 associated with or potential host
Atta texana host phorid fly Apocephalus wallerae parasite attacked
Atta texana host pteromalid wasp Spalangia attae parasite Universal Chalcidoidea Database associate

Flight Period

All Flight Records for Genus

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Taxon Month Source Notes
Atta mexicana Jun Jul
Atta texana Apr May Jun

Life History Traits

  • Mean colony size: 1750000 (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Compound colony type: not parasitic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Nest site: hypogaeic (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Diet class: herbivore (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging stratum: subterranean/leaf litter; arboreal (Greer et al., 2021)
  • Foraging behaviour: cooperative (Greer et al., 2021)



Worker Morphology

• Antennal segment count: 11 • Antennal club: gradual • Palp formula: 4,2 • Total dental count: 8-12 • Spur formula: 0,0 • Eyes: >100 ommatidia • Scrobes: absent • Pronotal Spines: present • Mesonotal Spines: dentiform; present • Propodeal Spines: present • Petiolar Spines: absent • Caste: polymorphic • Sting: absent • Metaplural Gland: present • Cocoon: absent


All Karyotype Records for Genus

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Taxon Haploid Diploid Karyotype Locality Source Notes
Atta bisphaerica 22 12M+6SM+4A Brazil Fadini & Pompolo, 1996; Barros et al., 2014
Atta colombica 11 22 12M+6SM+4A Panama Murakami et al., 1998; Barros et al., 2014 ''Atta columbica'' is a writing mistake
Atta laevigata 22 12M+6SM+4A Brazil Fadini & Pompolo, 1996; Barros et al., 2014
Atta robusta 22 18M+2SM+2ST Brazil Barros et al., 2015; de Castro et al., 2020
Atta sexdens 22 12M+6SM+4A Brazil Fadini & Pompolo, 1996; SantosColares et al., 1997; Barros et al., 2014
Atta sexdens 22 18M + 4A Brazil de Castro et al., 2020
Atta sexdens 22 18M+2SM+2ST Brazil Aguiar et al., 2020


The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.

  • ATTA [Myrmicinae: Attini]
    • Atta Fabricius, 1804: 421. Type-species: Formica cephalotes, by subsequent designation of Wheeler, W.M. 1911f: 159.
    • Atta senior synonym of Oecodoma: Roger, 1863b: 35.
    • Atta senior synonym of Archeatta: Smith, M.R. 1951a: 832.
    • Atta senior synonym of Archeatta, Epiatta, Neoatta, Palaeatta: Weber, 1958a: 8. [Each subgeneric name has subsequently been resurrected from and returned to synonymy, see under respective entries and in Bolton (1995b, 2003).]
  • ARCHEATTA [junior synonym of Atta]
    • Archeatta Gonçalves, 1942: 342 [as subgenus of Atta]. Type-species: Oecodoma mexicana, by original designation.
    • Archeatta as subgenus of Atta: Borgmeier, 1959b: 350; Kempf, 1972a: 27.
    • Archeatta as junior synonym of Atta: Smith, M.R. 1951a: 832; Weber, 1958a: 8; Bolton, 1994: 105.
  • EPIATTA [junior synonym of Atta]
    • Epiatta Borgmeier, 1950d: 246 [as subgenus of Atta]. Type-species: Oecodoma laevigata, by original designation.
    • Epiatta junior synonym of Atta: Weber, 1958a: 8.
    • Epiatta junior synonym of Neoatta: Borgmeier, 1959b: 358.
    • Epiatta junior synonym of Atta: Bolton, 1994: 105.
  • MYRMEGIS [Nomen nudum]
    • Myrmegis Rafinesque, 1815: 124. Nomen nudum. [Brown, 1973b: 182, placed Myrmegis as a junior synonym of Atta, because the entry in Rafinesque reads, "6. Myrmegis R. Atta Latr."]
  • NEOATTA [junior synonym of Atta]
    • Neoatta Gonçalves, 1942: 346 [as subgenus of Atta]. Type-species: Formica sexdens, by original designation.
    • Neoatta subgenus of Atta: Borgmeier, 1959b: 358; Kempf, 1972a: 27.
    • Neoatta senior synonym of Epiatta: Borgmeier, 1959b: 358.
    • Neoatta junior synonym of Atta: Weber, 1958a: 8; Bolton, 1994: 105.
  • OECODOMA [junior synonym of Atta]
    • Oecodoma Latreille, 1818: 222. Type-species: Formica cephalotes, by subsequent designation of Shuckard, in Swainson & Shuckard, 1840: 174.
    • Oecodoma junior synonym of Atta: Roger, 1863b: 35. [Atta and Oecodoma share the same type-species, synonymy is therefore absolute.]
  • PALAEATTA [junior synonym of Atta]
    • Palaeatta Borgmeier, 1950d: 244 [as subgenus of Atta]. Type-species: Atta bisphaerica, by original designation.
    • Palaeatta subgenus of Atta: Borgmeier, 1959b: 377; Kempf, 1972a: 28.
    • Palaeatta junior synonym of Atta: Weber, 1958a: 8; Bolton, 1994: 105.


  • Ashmead, W. H. 1905c. A skeleton of a new arrangement of the families, subfamilies, tribes and genera of the ants, or the superfamily Formicoidea. Can. Entomol. 37: 381-384 (page 384, Atta in Cryptoceridae)
  • Baigorria, J.A., Rubio, G.D., Stolar, C.E., Oklander, L.I. 2021. Notes on the jumping spider Corythalia conferta (Araneae: Salticidae), a possible myrmecophagous specialist in Argentina. Peckhamia 230.1, 1-12.
  • Bolton, B. 2003. Synopsis and Classification of Formicidae. Mem. Am. Entomol. Inst. 71: 370pp (page 197, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Borgmeier, T. 1959b. Revision der Gattung Atta Fabricius (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Stud. Entomol. (n.s.) 2: 321-390 (page 321, Revision of genus)
  • Brown, W. L., Jr. 1973b. A comparison of the Hylean and Congo-West African rain forest ant faunas. Pp. 161-185 in: Meggers, B. J., Ayensu, E. S., Duckworth, W. D. (eds.) Tropical forest ecosystems in Africa and South America: a comparative review. Wash (page 182, Myrmegis (nomen nudum) referable to Atta)
  • Burger, H.F., Vondráčková, K., Skłodowski, M., Qian-Qun Koid, Dent, D.H., Wallace, K., Fayle, T.M. 2021. Protection from herbivores varies among ant genera for the myrmecophilic plant Leea aculeata in Malaysian Borneo. Asian Myrmecology 14, e014002 (doi:10.20362/am.014002).
  • Cherrett, J. M.; Cherrett, F. J. 1989. A bibliography of the leaf-cutting ants, Atta spp. and Acromyrmex spp., up to 1975. Overseas Dev. Nat. Resour. Inst. Bull. 14: 1-58 (page 1, Bibliography)
  • Cresson, E. T. 1887. Synopsis of the families and genera of the Hymenoptera of America, north of Mexico, together with a catalogue of the described species, and bibliography. Trans. Am. Entomol. Soc., Suppl. Vol. 1887: 1-351 (page 259, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Cristiano, M.P., Cardoso, D.C., Sandoval‐Gómez, V.E., Simões‐Gomes, F.C. 2020. Amoimyrmex Cristiano, Cardoso, Sandoval, gen. nov. (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a new genus of leaf‐cutting ants revealed by multilocus molecular phylogenetic and morphological analyses. Austral Entomology 59, 643–676 (doi:10.1111/aen.12493).
  • Dalla Torre, K. W. von. 1893. Catalogus Hymenopterorum hucusque descriptorum systematicus et synonymicus. Vol. 7. Formicidae (Heterogyna). Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 289 pp. (page 150, Atta in Myrmicinae)
  • Dijkstra, M. B. and J. J. Boomsma. 2006. Are workers of Atta leafcutter ants capable of reproduction? Insectes Sociaux. 53(2):136-140. doi:10.1007/s00040-005-0848-3
  • Dijkstra, M. B., D. R. Nash, and J. J. Boomsma. 2005. Self-restraint and sterility in workers of Acromyrmex and Atta leafcutter ants. Insectes Sociaux. 52(1):67-76. doi:10.1007/s00040-004-0775-8
  • Emery, C. 1877b. Saggio di un ordinamento naturale dei Mirmicidei, e considerazioni sulla filogenesi delle formiche. Bull. Soc. Entomol. Ital. 9: 67-83 (page 81, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini [Myrmicidae, Attidae])
  • Emery, C. 1895l. Die Gattung Dorylus Fab. und die systematische Eintheilung der Formiciden. Zool. Jahrb. Abt. Syst. Geogr. Biol. Tiere 8: 685-778 (page 770, Atta in Myrmicinae)
  • Emery, C. 1914e. Intorno alla classificazione dei Myrmicinae. Rend. Sess. R. Accad. Sci. Ist. Bologna Cl. Sci. Fis. (n.s.) 18: 29-42 (page 42, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Emery, C. 1924f [1922]. Hymenoptera. Fam. Formicidae. Subfam. Myrmicinae. [concl.]. Genera Insectorum 174C: 207-397 (page 352, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Fabricius, J. C. 1804. Systema Piezatorum secundum ordines, genera, species, adjectis synonymis, locis, observationibus, descriptionibus. Brunswick: C. Reichard, xiv + 15-439 + 30 pp. (page 421, Atta as genus)
  • Forel, A. 1893b. Sur la classification de la famille des Formicides, avec remarques synonymiques. Ann. Soc. Entomol. Belg. 37: 161-167 (page 163, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Forel, A. 1899d. Formicidae. [part]. Biol. Cent.-Am. Hym. 3: 25-56 (page 30, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Forel, A. 1917. Cadre synoptique actuel de la faune universelle des fourmis. Bull. Soc. Vaudoise Sci. Nat. 51: 229-253 (page 247, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Kooij, P., Dentinger, B.M., Donoso, D. A., Shik, J.Z. & Gaya, E. 2018. Cryptic diversity in Colombian edible leaf-cutting ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insects 9:191 (DOI 10.3390/insects9040191).
  • Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, A. 1835 [1836]. Histoire naturelle des insectes. Hyménoptères. Tome I. Paris: Roret, 547 pp. (page 172, Atta in Myrmicites)
  • Lofgren, C. S.; Vander Meer, R. K. (eds.) 1986. Fire ants and leaf-cutting ants. Biology and management. Boulder: Westview Press, xv + 435 pp. (page 1, Bibliography)
  • Luiz Carlos Forti, Isabela Maria Piovesan Rinaldi, Roberto da Silva Camargo, and Ricardo Toshio Fujihara. 2012. Predatory Behavior of Canthon virens (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae): A Predator of Leafcutter Ants. Psyche, vol. 2012, Article ID 921465 (doi:10.1155/2012/921465).
  • Mayr, G. 1855. Formicina austriaca. Beschreibung der bisher im österreichischen Kaiserstaate aufgefundenen Ameisen, nebst Hinzufügung jener in Deutschland, in der Schweiz und in Italien vorkommenden Arten. Verh. Zool.-Bot. Ver. Wien 5: 273-478 (page 459, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Mayr, G. 1861. Die europäischen Formiciden. Nach der analytischen Methode bearbeitet. Wien: C. Gerolds Sohn, 80 pp. (page 65, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Mayr, G. 1865. Formicidae. In: Reise der Österreichischen Fregatte "Novara" um die Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859. Zoologischer Theil. Bd. II. Abt. 1. Wien: K. Gerold's Sohn, 119 pp. (page 18, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Polidori, C., Jorge, A., Keller, A., Ornosa, C., Tormos, J., Asís, J.D., Nieves-Aldrey, J.L. 2020. Strong phylogenetic constraint on transition metal incorporation in the mandibles of the hyper-diverse Hymenoptera (Insecta). Organisms Diversity, Evolution 20, 511–526. (doi:10.1007/S13127-020-00448-X).
  • Roger, J. 1863b. Verzeichniss der Formiciden-Gattungen und Arten. Berl. Entomol. Z. 7(B Beilage: 1-65 (page 35, Atta senior synonym of Oecodoma)
  • Smith, F. 1857a. Catalogue of the hymenopterous insects collected at Sarawak, Borneo; Mount Ophir, Malacca; and at Singapore, by A. R. Wallace. [part]. J. Proc. Linn. Soc. Lond. Zool. 2: 42-88 (page 77, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Smith, F. 1858a. Catalogue of hymenopterous insects in the collection of the British Museum. Part VI. Formicidae. London: British Museum, 216 pp. (page 161, Atta in Poneridae, Attidae)
  • Smith, F. 1871a. A catalogue of the Aculeate Hymenoptera and Ichneumonidae of India and the Eastern Archipelago. With introductory remarks by A. R. Wallace. [part]. J. Linn. Soc. Lond. Zool. 11: 285-348 (page 333, Atta in Myrmicinae [Myrmicidae])
  • Smith, M. R. 1951c. Family Formicidae. Pp. 778-875 in: Muesebeck, C. F., Krombein, K. V., Townes, H. K. (eds.) Hymenoptera of America north of Mexico. Synoptic catalogue. U. S. Dep. Agric. Agric. Monogr. 2:1-1420. (page 832, Atta senior syinonym of Archeatta)
  • Swanson, A. C., L. Schwendenmann, M. F. Allen, E. L. Aronson, A. Artavia-Leon, D. Dierick, A. S. Fernandez-Bou, T. C. Harmon, C. Murillo-Cruz, S. F. Oberbauer, A. A. Pinto-Tomas, P. W. Rundel, and T. J. Zelikova. 2019. Welcome to the Atta world: A framework for understanding the effects of leaf-cutter ants on ecosystem functions. Funct. Ecol. 33:1386-1399. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.13319
  • Tschinkel, W.R. 2015. The architecture of subterranean ant nests: beauty and mystery underfoot. Journal of Bioeconomics 17:271–291 (DOI 10.1007/s10818-015-9203-6).
  • Weber, N. A. 1958a. Nomenclatural notes on Proatta and Atta (Hym.: Formicidae). Entomol. News 69: 7-13 (page 8, Atta senior synonym of Archeatta, Epiatta, Neoatta, Paleatta)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1910b. Ants: their structure, development and behavior. New York: Columbia University Press, xxv + 663 pp. (page 141, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1911g. A list of the type species of the genera and subgenera of Formicidae. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 21: 157-175 (page 159, Type-species: Formica cephalotes; by subsequent designation)
  • Wheeler, W. M. 1922i. Ants of the American Museum Congo expedition. A contribution to the myrmecology of Africa. VII. Keys to the genera and subgenera of ants. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 45: 631-710 (page 669, Atta in Myrmicinae, Attini)