a non-generic name, are any of 47 species of leaf-chewing ants belonging to the two genera Atta and Acromyrmex. These species oftropical, fungus-growing ants are all endemic to South and Central America, Mexico and parts of the southern United States.  Leafcutter ants "cut and process fresh vegetation (leaves, flowers, and grasses) to serve as the nutritional substrate for their fungal cultivars."
The Acromyrmex and Atta ants have much in common anatomically; however, the two can be identified by their external differences. Atta ants have three pairs of spines and a smooth exoskeleton on the upper surface of the thorax, while Acromyrmex ants have four pairs and a rough exoskeleton.
Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth. In a few years, the central mound of their underground nests can grow to more than 30 metres (98 ft) across, with smaller, radiating mounds extending out to a radius of 80 metres (260 ft), taking up 30 to 600 square metres (320 to 6,460 sq ft) and containing eight million individuals.
In a mature leafcutter colony, ants are divided into castes, based mostly on size, that perform different functions. Acromyrmex and Atta exhibit a high degree ofbiological polymorphism, four castes being present in established colonies — minims, minors, mediae and majors. Majors are also known as soldiers or dinergates. Atta ants are more polymorphic than Acromyrmex, meaning there is comparatively less difference in size from the smallest to largest types of Acromymex.
Leaf cutter ant Atta cephalotes
ParasitismWhen the ants are out collecting leaves, they are at risk of attack by some species of phorid fly, parasitoids that lay eggs into the crevices of the worker ants' heads. Often a minim will sit on the worker ant and ward off any attack.
Also, the wrong type of fungus can grow during cultivation. Escovopsis is a highly virulent fungus that has the potential to devastate an ant garden, as it is horizontally transmitted. Currie et al. (1999) found Escovopsis was cultured, during colony foundation, in 6.6% of colonies. However, in one to two year old colonies, almost 60% had Escovopsis growing in the fungal garden.
Reproduction and colony founding
Atta colombica, queen with larvae and workers on substrate
Winged females and males leave their respective nests en masse and engage in a nuptial flight known as the revoada. Each female mates with multiple males to collect the 300 million sperm she needs to set up a colony.
Once on the ground, the female loses her wings and searches for a suitable underground lair in which to found her colony. The success rate of these young queens is very low, and only 2.5% will go on to establish a long-lived colony. To start her own fungus garden, the queen stores bits of the parental fungus garden mycelium in her infrabuccal pocket, which is located within her oral cavity.
Their societies are based on an ant-fungus mutualism, and different species of ants use different species of fungus, but all of the fungi the ants use are members of the Lepiotaceae family. The ants actively cultivate their fungus, feeding it with freshly cut plant material and keeping it free from pests and molds. This mutualistic relationship is further augmented by another symbioticpartner; a bacterium that grows on the ants and secretes chemicals, - essentially the ants use portable antimicrobials. Leaf cutter ants are sensitive enough to adapt to the fungi's reaction to different plant material, apparently detecting chemical signals from the fungus. If a particular type of leaf is toxic to the fungus, the colony will no longer collect it. The only two other groups of insects to use fungus-based agriculture are ambrosia beetles and termites. The fungus cultivated by the adults is used to feed the ant larvae, and the adult ants feed off the leaf sap. The fungus needs the ants to stay alive, and the larvae need the fungus to stay alive, so it is an obligatory mutualism.
Workers of Atta colombica at work
Leafcutter ant in Costa Rica
Leaf-cutter ants have very specific roles when it comes to taking care of the fungal garden and dumping the refuse. Waste management is a key role for each colony's longevity. The necrotrophic parasitic fungus Escovopsis threatens the ants' food source, and is thus a constant danger to the ants. The waste-transporters and waste heap workers are the older, more dispensable leaf-cutter ants, ensuring the healthier and younger leaf-cutter ants can work on the fungal garden. The Atta colombica species, unusually for the Attine tribe, have an external waste heap. Waste-transporters take the waste, which consists of used substrate and discarded fungus, to the waste heap. Once dropped off at the refuse dump, heap-workers organise the waste and constantly shuffle it around to aid decomposition. A compelling observation of Atta colombica was that the dead ants were placed around the perimeter of the waste heap. 
In addition to feeding the fungal garden with foraged food, mainly consisting of leaves, it is protected from Escovopsis by the antibiotic secretions ofActinobacteria (genus Pseudonocardia). This mutualistic micro-organism lives in the metapleural glands of the ant. Actinobacteria are responsible for producing the majority of the world's antibiotics today.