Species spotlight: Myrmecocystus

I was typing another blogpost, which involved such an amazing species of ants that I decided to introduce it first in a species spotlight, before posting the actual science-related piece.

Honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus) are well known in the USA, as they live in the arid regions of North America, but in my experience, many Europeans have never heard of them, which is a shame, as they are highly interesting! They have evolved a very fascinating adaptation to times of famine. During times of feast, when there is plenty of food around, honeypot ants collect all this food and feed it to the so-called repletes. These repletes grow so fat, that they can do nothing at all, except for hanging on the ceiling and staying alive in the nest.

Myrmecocystus mexicanus repletes. These ants are ailve, and are used as living storage containers

Myrmecocystus mexicanus repletes. These ants are alive, and are used as living storage containers. Picture by Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com)

These repletes are put to great use during times of famine. When ants need food, they kindly ask the repletes to regurgitate some food for them, and thus ensure the survival of the colony.

If you would like to learn more about these fascinating ants, BBC has released a documentary about them called ’empire of the desert ants‘. Here, they follow a colony from founding to death over many years, and the footage is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Definitely recommended! I link to a youtube version of the documentary, as I simply cannot find a way to buy this wonderful documentary anywhere!

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