Episode 175 – Honeypot Ant: Living Honey Chandeliers

“…and today we’re talking about an insect that’s part ant and part dump truck. But more on that later.”

For most animals, storing food for later is for jive squares. It’s all about getting as much food as you can stomach right now and letting tomorrow take care of itself. For the more prudent, however, food storage is a life-saving hassle. The honeypot ant may not be able to create an elaborate hive like the famous honeybee, but it has an interesting way of using its workers to keep snacks for the leaner times. But using your friends as living pantries is sometimes the best way to survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Leptomyrmex ants are often called spider ants because they often have proportionally long legs for their body size. 
  • Our Unicolor friends have long bodies and broadheads. 
  • The ants are black with pale brown to yellow coloration at the tips of their mandibles, legs, and antennae. 
  • They’re covered in chitinous hair that’s so fine it’s hard to see. But I’m told it’s dense and even covers their eyes.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro this week.

  • Assassin bug
  • Bush cricket
  • Cicada
  • Dinoponera (Giant Amazonian Ant)

Body length

  • 6 mm
  • How many ant lengths go into the length of the world’s smallest house?
  • Hint: The house is on wheels and it’s fully portable. It has a tiny sink and a hole in the floor for a toilet that’s covered by a frisbee. You can apparently rent it and there have been some Youtubers that did just that for a novel experience. It mostly seems to be a stunt to attract attention to minimal waste and green living. 
  • 370.8 ants. The house is 7.3 feet by 3.6 feet. The ceiling is 3 feet. It’s 25 sq ft.

Head width

  • 2.5 mm
  • How many ant heads would go into the length of the amount of heads of lettuce a Japanese indoor farm produces every day if the lettuce was put in a single file line. 
  • Hint: The farm is called Miara Co. and it’s owned by Shigeharu Shimamura. The indoor farm uses less water than outdoor farms because water isn’t lost to the ground. The lettuce is planted in vertically stacked racks that save space. 
  • 1,219,200 ant heads. The farm produces 10,000 heads per day.

Fast Facts

Unicolors live in Australia’s wet tropical climates and prefer wooded areas with plenty of logs and leaf litter to nest in. 

Honeypot ants are actually a class of ants like workers, queens, and males. Only a few species have honeypot roles, including Leptomyrmex unicolor.

They forage in groups of two or three and they can be found wandering the surface away from their nests both day and night. 

When they are disturbed, they extend their legs and raise their abdomen and run away. This makes them look even more like spiders. 

Colonies have a few hundred workers and a single queen. The queen is wingless and looks just like the workers but she’s slightly larger. 

Like other ants, scouts will find a large food sources and return to the nest to recruit reinforcements to collect the bounty. 

Major Fact: Living Larders (Fat Bottom Ants They Make the Rockin’ World Go Round)

Some insects, particularly bees, are well-known for their penchant for collecting and storing food. But that requires a location to store your food. This is called a larder – technically a place where meat is covered in lard for preservation, but can be used to describe anywhere food is stored for later.

But what if you want to take your fridge on the road? Well, the honeypot ant has you covered with the patent-pending food backpack!

But despite what Pixar wants you to believe, ants can’t use tools, so they can’t make backpacks or use the backpacks once they’ve made them.

So instead, they have special sterile members of their colony called plerergates that are designated for food storage. So basically, since they don’t have the necessary tools to make or wear backpacks, the plerergates are just a patsy for when the food runs out. We had a team dedicated to food, and they dropped the ball.

But these particular ants aren’t going to take this kind of railroading lying down – no sir. They’ve been given a job to do, and by George they’ll do it.

That’s right, if they can’t store the food in backpacks or combs, they’ll just shove it – right into their bums. Their abdomens are made out of plates called sclerites, which make up the typical exoskeleton of an ant. But these plates are connected with a much more flexible tissue that can expand.

So these plerergates will store so much food in their abdomens that they’ll become engorged like a tick that couldn’t eat another bite. Their abdomens will eventually swell up to the size of a grape and they won’t be able to move any more, so they’ll actually attach themselves to the roof of a tunnel near the base of the nest.

From then on, they’ll serve as a kind of hamster bottle for the rest of the colony. When they’re feeling peckish, the other ants will come up and tickle the plerergates until they vomit up a delicious snack. The other workers will often tickle out some extra snacks to share with everyone in accounting – even Debbie from accounts receivable. The food is mostly nectar from plants collected by worker ants as well as meat from insects and small lizards.

Ending: So stay underground, tow the company line, and remember that the ants pick the food, the ants vomit up the food, and the grasshoppers leave in disgust here in LDT