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acrylic on illustration board 18" x 24"
One of the best-known denizens of the Neotropics, the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) is a large and successful herbivorous lizard found in a variety of forest types from Mexico to Paraguay. Approaching the iguana in familiarity are the 50 or so species of leaf-cutter ant that share the lizard's expansive range. The species shown is Atta cephalotes. Leaf-cutter ants are unusual, but not unique among insects in their practice of agriculture. Four different types of workers maintain the colony. The largest workers, the majors, function as soldiers, defending the colony from marauders. Next in size are the mediae, which spend the day foraging for fresh leaves, which they cut into nickel-sized pieces and bring back to the colony. The sight of a mass of green leaf fragments moving slowly across the forest floor, tilting back and forth like butterfly wings, is a common delight of New World tropical forests. Attending the mediae are the smaller minors and minims, which protect the foraging phalanx from small predators and parasites. Inside the subterranean nests, the minim workers crush the leaves, which serve as a growing medium for fungi of the family Lepiotaceae, which feed the colony. Incidental subjects include the spectacular monocot Heliconia pogonantha, a Red-capped Manakin (Pipra mentalis) and the butterfly Antirrhea pterocopha.