Most mums will be keeping their fingers crossed that their offspring will remember even one card on Mother’s Day, this Sunday, but a ‘Queen Mother’ ant at an aquarium in Hunstanton is expecting a total running into three-figures.
This is because ‘Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon II’ – so called after the late Queen Mother – is the breeding queen of a leafcutter ant colony at the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary, where staff have helped her many children create a Mother’s Day to remember.
Hundreds of tiny leaf hearts have been provided to the ants to take to their queen in appreciation of her hard work and sacrifice in making the colony. In the wild, leafcutter ant queens leave their homes and strike out by themselves to dig a tunnel into the ground where they can lay thousands of eggs in a single day. Only the queen will breed in a leafcutter ant colony, making her a mother to thousands.
However, the cards have not only been given to the ants for sentimental reasons. While the tiny leaf hearts are a symbol of appreciation for motherhood, they will also help the ants build up their muscle strength and provide extra materials for the ants to use in their ‘fungus gardens’.
While leafcutter ants have been known to reduce citrus trees to small piles in a single day, the ants do not eat the vegetation they collect, instead taking it back to their nests to compost and cultivate fungus on as a food source.
Craig Foster, herpetologist at the Sanctuary, said: “Though small, our leafcutter ants are easily some of the most fascinating creatures we have at the Sea Life Sanctuary; their hierarchy is socially complex, just like humans and their queen is their life source and mother, so we are delighted the ants have taken to carrying the little Mother’s Day hearts to her. Not only is it a great gesture with Mother’s Day coming up, the different leaves we have made the hearts from will provide a variety of different sources of compost for their fungal gardens.”
In the wild, leafcutter ants hail from the rainforests in central and South America, where mature trees provide the vegetation they need to create their fungus gardens. Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon II’s reverent ant children can be seen carrying their tiny Mother’s Day cards as part of a display in the aquarium’s new ‘Rainforest Ranger’ area where children and their families are able to handle a range of creatures from jungles around the world.