The big, swollen abdomen of a honeypot ant as shown on the picture above is considered to be the living food storage of their entire colony. Specialized type of honeypot ants identified as repletes just hang from the ridges of their nests tunneled beneath the earth. During the dry season where food in the dessert is scarce, repletes’ abdomens are harvested by their fellow ants to provide nutrition for the entire ant colony.
Honey pot ants are common inhabitants of desserts and other dry places around the world. Scientifically known as Myrmecocystus mexicanus, this unique insect is native to Mexico and the rest of Southern United States of America. There are several species of honeypot ants known around the world, some of the species are abundant at Southern Africa and Australia and other arid places such as desserts.
Honeypot ant caste
Caste system is also practiced in honeypot ant’s colonies. This behavior is common to social animals just like these ants. Only few of honeypot ants are harvested during the lean season. These living food storages belong to the worker class who gather food earnestly during the wet season. Soldier honeypot ants secure the colony from unwanted visitors whose intention is just to grab some sweet snacks over the honey ants. Drones are reared by the workers for the purpose sperm donation. After their sperm is deposited to the queen, these poor male ants will eventually die. The queen is the mother of the honeypot ants in the colony.
Foraging during the rainy season
Rainy season is the time for honeypot ants to gather their food. Wet season is the only time for the workers to do their job because the food is abundant. When dry season come, all the vegetation in the dessert will perish. The worker ants gather nectar from flowers in the desert. Part of their harvested nectar is being fed to the repletes. On some occasion, workers will also feed repletes juices from the slain insects that attempted to enter their colony. Repletes are fed by the workers manually, mouth to mouth.
When the food is scarce…
Here comes the sun. The rainy season has passed and the drought is fast approaching. Food and nutrition has become scarce. Plants are dead now. Only few species of plants bloom in this time in the desert. Predators seldom visit their colony, so insect juice is so limited. The colony members will then turn to the repletes or the living larders who now bloated to the size of mouthwatering grapes.
When the members of the colony fell short of the nutrition they need, a worker honeypot ant will strike its antennae to the repletes asking them to throw-up some sweet sugary liquid which will be eaten by the worker itself on the spot or carry it on to another ant in the colony.
Honeypot Ant Facts
Scientific Name: Plagiolepsis trimineni, Camponotus inflatus, Leptomyrmex sp., Melophorus sp., Myrmecocystus sp
Honeypot ant distribution
These species of ants thrive in Mexico, Western and Southern America, South Africa, New Guinea and Australia.
Honeypot ant habitat
This type of ants normally lives in hot arid areas such as desserts.
What do they eat?
Honeypot ants usually gorge on flowers at the desert for nectar during the wet season. The soldier honeypot kills every insect that visit their colony. These slain insects serve as nutrient source for the ants.
Honeypot colonies are considered to be monogyny, hymenopteran colony that has only one queen in their colony. It means that only the queen has the capacity to lay eggs until she retire. Scientist has found out that a Myrmecocystus sp. queen can live up to 11 years and can lay up to over a thousand of eggs a day.
The honeypot ant workers are the one responsible for foraging. Workers vary in sizes and colors, most especially the repletes which resemble freshly picked grapes when they’ve been ready for harvest.
Is it a pest?
No, honey pot ants do not damage any type of property and have no risks in areas that they are living in.
Can it be reared as pet?
Honey pot ant needs permanently high desert-like temperatures. These insects also require wide area of housing so that the repletes may enjoy large space in clinging from the roof.