The animal on the cover of Mastering Bitcoin is a leafcutter ant (Atta colombica). The leafcutter ant, a nongeneric name, are tropical, fungus-growing ants endemic to South and Central America, Mexico, and southern United States. Aside from humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on the planet. They are named for the way they chew leaves, which serve as nutrition for their fungal garden.
Winged ants, both male and female, take part in a mass exit of their nest known as the revoada, or a nuptial flight. Females mate with multiple males to collect the 300 million sperm necessary to set up a colony. Females also store bits of the parental fungus garden mycelium in the infrabuccal pocket located in their oral cavity; they will use this to start their own fungal gardens. Once grounded, the female loses its wings and sets up an underground lair for her colony. The success rate for new queens is low: 2.5% establish a long-lived colony.
Once a colony has matured, ants are divided into castes based on size, with each caste performing various functions. There are usually four castes: minims, the smallest workers that tend to the young and fungus gardens; minors, slightly larger than minima, are the first line of defense for the colony and patrol the surrounding terrain and attack enemies; mediae, the general foragers that cut leaves and bring back leaf fragments to the nest; and majors, the largest worker ants that act as soldiers, defending the nest from intruders. Recent research has shown that majors also clear main foraging trails and carry bulky items back to the nest.
Many of the animals on O’Reilly covers are endangered; all of them are important to the world. To learn more about how you can help, go to animals.oreilly.com.
The cover image is from Insects Abroad. The cover fonts are URW Typewriter and Guardian Sans. The text font is Adobe Minion Pro; the heading font is Adobe Myriad Condensed; and the code font is Dalton Maag’s Ubuntu Mono.