australian honey pot ant
There is a desert-dwelling ant in Australia that lives off the nectar of mulga trees. Animals which rely on flower nectar in regions that get extremely cold or dry must have some means of storage for when times are lean.
The Australian honey pot ant has specialized workers called repletes which function as living larders. They become fully engorged with nectar, to the size of a grape, and hang from the roof. These specialized honey pots are almost totally inactive so they consume little honey to sustain their energy.
The small dark spots on their inflated honey sacs are the hard plates that protect the body of a normal ant. The membrane between those plates is what stretches.
When there is little food to be found above ground workers visit the honey pots. They stimulate the repletes to regurgitate food. Other workers groom and clean the larders. During times of plenty workers bring nectar down and feed it to the repletes.
AntWiki.org describes it as a “social stomach” which sounds like something a tech startup would be working on.
Their nests are about 4 feet below the surface of the ground. Indigenous Australians would dig them up and eat them. Chef Renee Redzepi has served them recently:
There are several ant species that have a replete caste.I’m pretty sure the ones in the David Attenborough video (see footnotes) and in Rene Redzepi’s photo are a carpenter ant Camponotus inflatus.
Australia also has Melophorus bagoti, the red honey ant.In the first photo which shows ants hanging, they have red heads and black bodies; I’m not sure which species that is.
Myrmecocystus mexicanus lives in the American Southwest and Mexico. I’m curious to look for them in a sand dune area.
Is it a prestigious position to be a honey pot for your colony? I imagine many people would look at that as a pretty sick job. But do the other ants coerce them to stay put if the honey pots try to move? Do they always feel bloated? I have to say having a fat gold ass seems like a cool move.
How would Winnie the Pooh react to this? Would his honey lust overcome the creepiness of eating ants? I like to think it would.
Wild Places, Season 1, Episode 1, Outback Deserts. Magellan TV Documentaries 2019
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/psyche/2010/435838/ academic paper on nest relocation