Thursday, April 5, 2012

Creature Feature/They Actually Eat That: Honeypot Ants.

This blog has covered eating insects more times than we care to count. They are one of those foods that make Americans go "I'm glad our nation is rich enough that we don't have to eat bugs." The fact is, insects are nutritious, economical, and, if prepared right, darn tasty.

So what happens when nature makes an insect with an "eat me" sign stamped on its rear? Only one thing:

The honeypot ant (Myrmecocystus et al.) is one of the few insects that begs to be eaten.  There are several genera with the one cited here being native to North America. Other honeypot ants can be found in Australia and South Africa. These ants are most common in dry environments where food and water are scarce.

The term "honeypot ant' can refer to a number of species of ants that have exactly one thing in common: Certain members of their colony store food in their bodies for others. This can be something sweet, like sugar, or a concentrate of various fluids and pieces of whatever the workers happened to come across. Whatever the source, the result is always the same:

From NASA, of all places.

Unlike most animals, who will either cache or store food in their nests for when the time is right, honeypot ants store food in their abdomens. The tiny ant's rear end can easily swell to the size of a grape if it gets enough food in there. This hinders the ant's mobility considerably; if they get too swollen, they cannot move. They are thus usually found underground in the nests, being mined and fed by the workers. Hello, easy lunch!

In all seriousness? These ants are designed to be eaten by other members of their colony. When food sources get low, they're the emergency rations. Their proper name is "repletes." Hell, other ant colonies will also raid nests with honeypots - they're that valuable in terms of water and nutrients. Remember, ants wage war for the same reasons humans do: resources.

Humans have found out that these ants are good eatin', too. They aren't high cuisine, but the Warlpiri Aborigines in Australia have taken quite a shine to them. No preparation is required - just bite the sweet-tasting abdomen and go. Nature is a free buffet if you know where to look.


  1. Are there specific ants in the colony that develop like this, or can any ant become a "honey pot?"

  2. :D Yay, I indirectly led to the development of a blog post! ^^

    I honestly think that honeypot ants could become the next big thing in organic foods; they literally ARE natural made candy! Hell, coat them in dark chocolate and we could make a killing.