Whenever I am asked to travel to a venue elsewhere in the world, there is always an expectation that this will be because the keeping staff will require lots of help and guidance to get things right. When I travelled to Montreal this was my expectation. On arrival, however, I discovered the reverse was true. A team of dedicated and knowledgeable entomologists responsible for one of the most impressive displays of insects and other inverts I have ever seen. And central to this, for me, was Laurent, whose world class knowledge and expertise in the management and husbandry of Leaf Cutters was a real joy to encounter. Laurent talked me through his techniques and practises and showed me some new ways to work with these ants which, nowadays does not happen that often. …..
Laurent prepares an assortment of leaves and flowers, all grown on site, for the Atta cephalotes colony to cut. This was done a short time before the visitors to the Insectarium were due to arrive for the day.
Laurent kept apologising for his English but, as I kept assuring him, his English was a lot better than my French!!
The overall display was built by Laurent around 10 years ago but the Insectarium has had Leaf Cutting Ants for around 22 years and Laurent has looked after them for all of this time! The setup consists of two glass tanks, one with the nest boxes and the other for the feeding ‘tree’. A series of connecting branches allows the ants access.
This colony of Atta cephalotes was supplied by me around 4 years ago. It has grown to a large size and, during my visit, the plan was to place this colony into the public display. I had arrived with two new colonies of Leaf Cutting Ants so there would be fresh backup nests in reserve should anything happen to the main colony in the future.
Laurent has a fantastic understanding of Leaf Cutters. All of the fungus was very healthy and the brood which was stacked up on the fungus was testament to the perfect condition of the ants nest.
Once transferred to the actual exhibit, the ants wasted no time in getting started organising the leaves and moving brood around their new nest.
One of the new nests brought over to Canada. Already they were clearing the rubbish from the nest and feeding well.
Laurent built this trolley from scratch to work with the Leaf Cutters each day. It has an escape proof central holding tray where he can work with the nests, sprays, an ant proof bin, nets modified to remove rubbish from the water filled moats…. Everything that a life time of experience makes you know is needed.
The finished setup! Looks absolutely fabulous. There is an area where a member of staff talks about the Leaf Cutters and under the floor there is additional heating for the cold times of year.
This entire glass house is for the sole purpose of feeding the insects. A large section is dedicated to the Leaf Cutters. They grow Privet, Hibiscus, loads of perfect food leaves and flowers. They also feed Oak as a staple.
The rest of the Insectarium was equally as impressive. Here are some pictures.