Honey ants are one of the most unusual of the known ant species. Honey ants store nectar inside the living bodies of worker ants called repletes. The ant colony draws on these living "honey pots" during lean times.
An ant will use its antennas to tap the right code on the antennas of a replete. The replete then opens its mouth to unlock the "honey pot". A special stomach valve, composed of four flaps, controls the flow in or out.
Repletes live a sedentary but safe life underground. They are protected from drought, heat, and insect predators. They guard against bacteria and fungi by smearing their bodies with antibiotic fluid from a special gland.
Where does the "honey" come from? It begins with sap and nectar of acacia trees. Then, tiny insects called aphids feed on these natural juices. Worker ants then milk the aphids of some of their excess sugar, called honeydew, or they collect it directly from the trees. The worker ant then feeds this collected liquid to the repletes. Since the inactive repletes have a small nutritional need, most of the honeydew ends up in the "honey bank".
What about the aphids? The ants leave them adequate nectar and protect them from parasites and predators. Both the ants and the aphids are winners in this symbiotic partnership called mutualism.
These type of ants can be found in the desert regions of Australia, Africa and Southeast Arizona. The aborigines find and eat these honey ants, considering them a Desert Delicacy. Would you try one, if the opportunity arises?
"Go to the ant see its ways and become wise. Although it has no commander, officer or ruler, it prepares its food even in the summer, it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest." -Proverbs 6:6-8.
Yes these ants are cooperative, highly organized, and industrious! It is amazing that these hardy desert dwellers produce such a sweet delicacy in such a harsh, inhospitable terrain.
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