What is a honeypot ant?
Bees aren’t the only insects to make honey, some ants can make the sweet treat too.
The honeypot ant, Camponotus inflatus, lives in the deserts of Australia where worker bees harvest nectar from the flowers of the mulga tree. The bees carry it underground and feed it to specialised workers known as ‘rotunds’ whose job it is to dangle upside down and eat.
Indeed, the tubby little insects are fed so much nectar that their abdomens swell up to the size of a small grape, and the abdomen wall is stretched so thin that the honey can be seen inside.
These literal honeypots are an insurance policy against hard times. When the regular workers run out of food, they stroke the rotunds’ antennae, causing the ants to regurgitate the stored honey. They also groom and clean the honeypots to keep the living larders in good condition.
The rotunds form roughly 50 per cent of the colony, and live in cool, underground galleries. They are highly prized by Indigenous Australians who have been excavating and eating them for thousands of years. In the 1990 documentary, Trials Of Life, David Attenborough was filmed quaffing one.
The honey is said to be runnier and less sweet than the better-known bee alternative, but remains rich in antioxidants.
- How strong are ants?
- What is a Brazilian treehopper?
- How do bees make honey?
- How do insects avoid being eaten by birds?
To submit your questions email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (don't forget to include your name and location)
- Try your first 6 issues for just £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine.
- Risk - free offer! Cancel at any time when you subscribe via Direct Debit.
- FREE UK delivery.
- Stay up to date with the latest developments in the worlds of science and technology.