Honeypot Ant Webcam

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Honeypot Ant (Myrmecocystus mexicanus)

Occurs in western North America, arid and semi-arid environments.

Nectar, honeydew, live and dead arthropods

There are 28 species of honeypot ants in North America. These ants are known for their ability to store food in their extended abdomens. These ants that live their life as a food storage system are called repletes. Repletes are picked from a young age to store nectar, water and the body fluid from a variety of arthropods. During the times of plenty in the desert environment, foraging workers collect the vital resources needed to survive the times when there are no desert flowers in bloom. Using their strong legs, they hang from the top of their underground chamber for their entire life. Foraging ants bring back the nectar, water and insect juices and transfer it into the mouth of an awaiting replete. This transfer of food is called trophallaxis. Trophallaxis is the exchange of regurgitated liquids between insects. These liquids are brought up from the ant’s crop, or an extra stomach that is not used for digestion, but for storage.

Colonies of these social insects can reach up into the thousands and are all sisters from the same queen. Before this queen founded her own colony, she was a virgin (unmated) queen and had wings. After a desert rain she left her queen’s colony and dispatched upon her mating flight. Up in the sky she would find a winged male. The two would mate, killing the male in the act. She could mate with several males during this flight. When she has been fully mated, she will return to the ground, losing her wings shortly thereafter. This newly mated queen will create a burrow and found her own colony. She will lay a few eggs and will provide around the clock care for her vital first workers, referred to as a nanitics. These nanitics are much smaller than their future sisters. Since they were only receiving care from their queen, they are underfed, resulting in a smaller size.

Once the nanitics have become adults they will begin creating a burrow underground and begin caring for the eggs, larvae and pupae, and the queen. They are able to provide much better care for their sisters, which will allow them to grow much larger than the nanitics. The eggs are kept warm and are carried place to place very gently in the ant’s strong mandibles. Larvae are fed dead arthropods, given water and kept warm. Sometimes these legless larvae shuffle about the burrow, only to be brought back by one of the many workers inside the colony.

Queen honeypot ants are very long lived, up to 30 years! During their reign, they are more like slaves inside of their colony. The workers force them to eat, lay eggs and move about the chambers.

The repletes are often collected from the colonies from humans as food. They are a sweet treat and, in some countries, considered a delicacy.

Queen Phoenix

Our honeypot queen comes from the deserts of Arizona, USA. She was collected during the July monsoon season of 2017. Queen Phoenix was raised from workers of a wild colony after losing her own workers. This is extremely rare for ants to accept a different queen! She rose from the ashes to have a thriving colony at the Iowa State University Insect Zoo.

Queen Phoenix and the formicarium (the enclosure for ants) was donated to the Insect Zoo by the Isaac’s Ant Foundation, Nonprofit for the Advancement of Science Education.

Isaac's Ant Foundation was created in honor of Isaac Calley who enjoyed contemplating the fundamental questions in life. He loved a heartfelt debate about the meaning of life and stated at the age of eight, "Time is the greatest force in nature, because without time, nothing happens." Isaac felt strongly about the individual's responsibility to make the world a better place and he understood that people with disabilities were vulnerable and underappreciated. This compelled him to have a special interest in helping people with physical, mental, and social handicaps. 

Isaac extended his compassion and love for the vulnerable and underappreciated to his love for the ants. The more he learned about ants, the more he wanted to teach others about how truly amazing they are.

Isaac's Ant Foundation now works in his name to continue his work. We offer scholarships through our endowment program for individuals with disabilities that are pursuing science education and by installing ant exhibits and offering ant education, because when we look out for the little guys, we make better stewards.

You can find out more about Isaac’s Ant Foundation by visiting their website:  https://www.isaacsantfoundation.com/