Leafcutter Ants Life Cycle

What Is Life like in an Ant Colony?

This lesson is intended to take place over the span of five or six days, depending on your class. It can be condensed as needed to take up less time.

The resources provided here are not all-inclusive. Encourage students to find other sources of information to supplement their research when they have completed all the requirements of the lesson.

If time is a concern, consider using the final activity as the students’ assessment. It should demonstrate what the students have learned about the leafcutter ant. To check individual understanding, have each student write a few paragraphs explaining the different components of their group’s illustration and ask them to cite their evidence so that you can see their thinking.


  • Students will understand the concept of social hierarchy and division of labor and how it applies to the leafcutter ant community.
  • Students will analyze how each ant role affects the function of the colony as a whole.
  • Students will evaluate the leafcutter system by making a claim about the importance of ant cooperation and supporting that claim using evidence.

Tips for Classroom Implementation

  • Ideally groups would be working in a computer lab. However, if computers are limited, explore the webpages as a class or provide printouts of the articles for each student.
  • For group work, assign each student with a specific task to ensure that they are given equal opportunity to participate and contribute to the group. Examples of group jobs could be a scribe, group monitor, materials monitor, and reader (if groups want to read aloud). Adjust positions as you see fit.
  • Make sure that the leafcutter relay is completed in a large flat area to avoid injury. Let the students know what they will be doing a day ahead of time so that they can wear appropriate shoes. 

Time Required

45-60 minutes a day for 5 days.

Classroom Set-up

Arrange students so that they can easily work in groups of 3-4.

Each activity should be prepared with directions and all materials needed for the activities. Most printed materials can be found in the Experiment Packet [PDF].

Day 1 Materials

  • Leafcutter Ant Relay Instructions (in experiment PDF)
  • 1 computer per group or watch the video as a whole class
  • Notebooks
  • Pencils

Day 2 Materials

Day 3 Materials

Day 4 Materials

  • One copy of the Ant Anatomy coloring page per student (in experiment PDF).
  • Notebooks
  • Pencils
  • Dictionaries if extra support is needed

Day 5 Materials

  • Large construction paper or poster board for each group
  • Pencils
  • Coloring utensils

Ensure that you have access to computers for students to complete the Web activities. If computer access is limited then consider printing the online articles and webpages for your students to use. If you have access to a smart board or projector, then the video could be shown to the whole class.


Challenge the students to research the infrastructure of the average city. What does almost every community have? (e.g., fire department, police station, grocery story, water supply, etc.)

Students can design a community for people that meet the four basic needs; water, food, shelter, and space.

  1. Does this community have a caste system?
  2. What does that look like?

Have students compare the superorganism of an ant colony to the body of an organism. Do any castes align with organ types or specific activities? Students can use a table to compare the functions of a colony and a body that are similar and how either a caste or an organ system or action handles that function.


Activity suggested for standards for grades 3 through 6.

Arizona Science Standards

Strand 1: Inquiry Process
Grade 4

Concept 1: Observations, Questions, and Hypotheses
Formulate predictions, questions, or hypotheses based on observations. Locate appropriate resources.

  • PO 1. Formulate a relevant question through observations that can be tested by an investigation.

Concept 2: Scientific Testing (Investigating and Modeling)
Design and conduct controlled investigations.

  • PO 1. Demonstrate safe behavior and appropriate procedures (e.g., use and care of technology, materials, organisms) in all science inquiry.

Concept 4: Communication
Communicate results of investigations.

  • PO 1. Communicate verbally or in writing the results of an inquiry.

Strand 4: Life Science

Concept 3: Organisms and Environments
Understand the relationships among various organisms and their environment.

  • P.O. 1 (Grade 4) Describe ways various resources (e.g., air, water, plants, animals, soil) are utilized to meet the needs of a population.
  • PO 5. (Grade 5) Describe how environmental factors (e.g., soil composition, range of temperature, quantity and quality of light or water) in the ecosystem may affect a member organism's ability to grow, reproduce, and thrive.

Concept 4: Diversity, Adaptation and Behavior
Identify plant and animal adaptations

  • PO 1. (Grade 3) Identify adaptations of plants and animals that allow them to live in specific environments.

Common Core Standards

Key Ideas and Details

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. Also good for grades in between 3rd and 6th.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

Craft and Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 (or up to grade 6) topic or subject area.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7: Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.3 to 6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts at the appropriate text complexity band independently and proficiently. (Material can be modified for high end 3rd grade to 6th grade).

Next Generation Science Standards

3-LS Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

  • 3-LS2-1: Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.

View Citation

You may need to edit author's name to meet the style formats, which are in most cases "Last name, First name."

Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Leafcutter Activity For Teachers
  • Author(s): Angelina Alameda
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: October 22, 2014
  • Date accessed: July 15, 2024
  • Link: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/leafcutter-ants/teachers

APA Style

Angelina Alameda. (2014, October 22). Leafcutter Activity For Teachers. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved July 15, 2024 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/leafcutter-ants/teachers

American Psychological Association. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Chicago Manual of Style

Angelina Alameda. "Leafcutter Activity For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 22 October, 2014. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/leafcutter-ants/teachers

MLA 2017 Style

Angelina Alameda. "Leafcutter Activity For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 22 Oct 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 15 Jul 2024. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/experiments/leafcutter-ants/teachers

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/
Leafcutter ant

Learn more about leafcutter ants by reading the companion article, Secrets of a Superorganism.

Download the Life of a Leafcutter Experiment Packet [PDF].

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