I am sure you’ve heard the expression “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” implying that if you are nice, people will like you more. Entomologically speaking you catch more flies with poop, but we won’t go there! I saw this great article reposted the other day and it got me thinking about the ants. In my early entomology days, I was
absolutely fascinated by a certain species of ants and it has stuck with me. This pic just reminded me of that.
Honeypot ants. Yep, imagine a marriage between a bee and an ant and you get the amazing honeypot ant. There are actually numerous species, an estimated 34 worldwide, and they are normally found in hot, dry, desert regions. What makes these so special is
the specialized worker known as a “replete”. The word replete means filled, well supplied, or sated with food. Pretty accurate. During the rainy season, foraging ants go out and collect nectar from sap-feeding insects like aphids (which exude honeydew) and blooming flowers. They bring this back to the nest and feed the repletes. And feed them, and feed them, and feed them! Until their abdomens swell up like inflated balloons, the size of a cherry! They are fed so much, and expand so greatly that they can’t move and certainly can’t leave the nest. So they just hang there. Like cans on a shelf, these individuals are the future food source when the dry season comes around and food is scarce outside the colony.
The colonies are located deep below the ground, but that doesn’t stop predators from getting to them. Mammals like badgers, lizards, and even other ant colonies will prey on the honeypot ants. Humans happen to be a predator too! Many people, especially in Australia will eat these. I have heard they are delicious on ice cream and I cannot wait to try them some day.
Couple more cool facts about honey pot ants:
- Queens can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day and live 11 years.
- Colonies have been kept and reared in captivity – Oakland Zoo has some!
- The repletes can be different colors, likely depends on what color the nectar source was.
- First described by the American naturalist Henry C. McCook in 1881.
Pretty entomologically awesome huh? Wouldn’t you like to share or test out some of those new facebook buttons (no sad or angry though!).
And what would a great post be without a cool video?