Feeling bloated? Take some comfort in that it’s probably not to the same degree as these honeypot ants. With abdomens full of honey, they become a pantry for the rest of the colony who drink from and then re-fill the honeypot ants as if they were just some sort of, well, honey pot.
Found in the arid outback of central Australia, they have a sneaky system to store food. Specialised worker ants collect honey to then feed it to the honeypots who hang from the ceiling of the nest like roosting bats. They store this honey in their crop, forcing their abdomens to swell to the size of marbles creating a bizarre kind of living pantry.
Should an ant return to the nest hungry for a snack, an appropriate pattern of antenna to antenna taps with a honeypot will see it open its mouth to provide the begging ant with a much needed energy boost.
What’s it take to become a honeypot? New ants destined to fill the role must close a valve in their abdomen so that they can no longer excrete. This helps prepare them for the increased size they’ll stretch too once filled with honey.
While the honeypots may also be filled with water, insect or plant juices, the sweetly centered honey filled honeypot ants have long been a favourite snack of Australia’s indigenous people, the Aboriginals.
But don’t worry if you can’t make the trip to find, dig up and eat these insect sweeties, I’m sure regular honey will be just as nice. And with less abdomens involved.
Espelie, E. (2005). Delectable Ornaments. Natural History, 113(10), 6-8.
Goode, J. (1980). Insects of Australia. Angus & Robertson Publishers.