Honeypot Ant Colonies Snack on Shared Vomit When Food Is Scarce - Nerdist
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Honeypot Ant Colonies Snack on Shared Vomit When Food Is Scarce

All some honeypot ants do is hang from the ceiling and eat what their sisters bring them. Their abdomens swell like balloons. These nectar chandeliers serve an important evolutionary purpose for the desert-living species. When food is scarce, they regurgitate the overabundance right back to the other ants in the colony. The latest video from Deep Look takes an up close look at honeypot ants.

Like other ants, honeypot ants each have a specific job within their colony. A queen lays eggs and workers collect food, care for young, and keep the colony clean. There’s also female honeypot ants called repletes. Replete is a term that means full, though it doesn’t only apply to food. And technically, they aren’t full. The nectar goes into a pouch in their abdomen, not their stomach. This means they don’t digest the food.

The abdomen of a replete honeypot ant swells, pushing the hard sclerites apart
Deep Look / KQED

As their storage space fills up, the hard sections of their exoskeleton (sclerites) are pushed apart. They are quite vulnerable and don’t leave the colony. Worker ants feed them by regurgitating nectar into their mouths. All the repletes have to do is hang around, literally. Scientists think that increases the air flow around their large bodies, keeping dangerous fungal infections away.

Deep Look videos come from KQED, an NPR and PBS station in San Francisco. We saw this one thanks to Boing Boing. Other wild things we’ve recently learned about ants include that they can be trained to detect cancer and that some can end up with two butts, one of which is actually a beetle.

While it’s not something this science writer will be trying anytime soon, people do eat honeypot ants. According to Gabriela Quirós, the writer and producer who ate the replete at the end of this video, it comes with a light burning sensation. This is from the formic acid the ants secrete as a defense mechanism. Clearly it’s not enough to deter connoisseurs.

Featured Image: Deep Look/KQED

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