Ants Use Vibratome to Cut Leaves

Ants Use Vibratome to Cut Leaves

Yesterday we wrote about leaf-cutting ants that engage in farming activity, which we used to think only humans did. The 1994 Disney movie Lion King started many people thinking about what these ants do. There is another tool leafcutter ants have that is impressive. These ants use vibratome to cut leaves.

Vibratome is sound emissions that alter the structure of matter close to the sound. Biologists use sound waves to prepare specimens to be sliced for microscopic examination. The sound waves cause soft material to become more rigid and, therefore, easier to cut. Ants had used vibratomes long before scientists discovered it.

As we said yesterday, leafcutter ants in the Atta genus slice off sections of leaves and carry them to their nests to feed the fungi they harvest. Researchers have found that as the ants cut, they chirp at a frequency of 1000 hertz. That sound frequency rigidizes soft leaf tissue, making it easier to cut. Vibratome is a technically sophisticated technique and one you would expect skilled technicians to use. Materials science is a relatively new field, and yet ants have it built into their DNA to chirp at a specific frequency as they cut leaves to feed the fungi they eat.

How is it that ants use vibratome to cut leaves? How did they know that it would stiffen the leaves and allow them to make a smoother cut? Scientists further discovered that the vibratome effect does not speed up the leaf-cutting. However, it enables a smoother cutting of the tender leaves, which the scientific report said gives “the most desirable harvest for the ants.”

God created the leaves as well as the ants that use the leaves to feed the fungi they eat. He gave the ants wisdom to use vibratome to cut leaves. The writer of Proverbs reflects God’s wisdom and intelligence in 6:6-8, “Go to the ant … consider her ways, and be wise.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can read the full scientific report on