Watch a trail of ants march off bearing morsels of food, and you might think the insects are experts at gathering prey. But sometimes the makeup of a food can confound a particular species of supersized ants, new research shows.
Bullet ants – giant tropical ants named for the strength of their sting – forage for nectar and insects in the canopy of Costa Rican rainforests. When they encounter drops of a solution that’s both sugary and protein-rich, they have trouble deciding whether to sip or chomp. If a liquid has high protein content, the insects grab and try to eat it as though it’s solid prey. As anyone who has ever tried to eat a quickly-melting ice cream cone can imagine, the ants’ attempts to bite into liquids usually fail.
Researchers have long known that bullet ants adjust how much protein or sugar to take back to their nest-mates depending on the colony’s needs. But these new results, published in Naturwissenschaften last November, are the first to demonstrate what the ants detect in different morsels of food.
Read the rest at Inside Science.
Photo credit: Jenny Jandt