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What are Honey Ants?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Honey ants refer to several different types of ants that have an unusual appearance and set of behaviors making them quite remarkable. Also called repletes and honeypot ants, these insects don’t just go out to gather small bits of food to carry back to their nests. Instead, they fill their abdomens with huge amounts of food, which make them look similar to small crawling honey pots. The gathering types of honey ants are then able to feed the rest of the ant colony through extraction of this food, water, or protein from their distended abdomens.

It’s certainly odd to think of any creature acting as a walking pantry for its fellow creatures, but this is indeed the function of honey ants. Their appearance is incredibly distinct because you will note the hugely swollen abdomen, and the size of the “honey pot” can be similar to a grape or cherry, but is often a translucent amber color. Each separate genus of honey ants does have size variation. Not all the ants in a colony will have large swollen bellies. Usually it is the female workers of a certain size that do the food harvesting and collecting, while smaller females take care of the ant queen, which rules each society, and males typically serve a much more minimal role acting to mate with the queen and then quietly and rapidly expiring.

It’s difficult to describe the behavior of honey ants as a whole, since there are so many different types. There are for instance, nocturnal and diurnal groups, and diet will depend much on available insects and plant sources. Most of these ants do live in desert or dry regions and they can be found in many places in the world.

One ant called the small honey ant, which has a range through most of the Americas, is sometimes called the false honey ant. It shouldn’t be confused with the honeypot ant and doesn’t exhibit the abdomen food storing behaviors of most honey ants. Instead it’s a very common insect that loves sweet things, and is the bane to many a kitchen when it conducts raids for things like honey and sugar. If you’ve ever had ants attack any of your sweet foods, you’ve very likely met the false honey ant.

In contrast, true honey ants have a more limited range, and are more likely to be encountered in arid areas. They can’t generally survive the colder temperatures where false honey ants appear to thrive. These ants also have become the occasional target of human populations, since they do contain small amounts of honey. Aboriginal populations in Australia and its surrounding continent, and groups in Northern America and Mexico have been known to dig up the nests, quickly suck the honey from the full-bellied ants, and press the ants to extract their honey, according to Eva Crane in her 1999 book The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All Things Nature contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By highlighter — On Mar 14, 2011

@parmnparsley- I have had good luck getting rid of similar ants by using scented baby powder. It doesn't work for killing ants, but the ants sure don't like the stuff. I hope this helps. Good luck!

By GiraffeEars — On Mar 13, 2011

@parmnparsley- It sounds like you have ants from the genus forelius. Do you live in a xeric climate, residential desert, by chance? If these are the ants, they tend to forage mostly during the day and in hot climates. They are very small ants and often forage alone or in small groups. They also tend to travel in perfectly straight or near straight lines.

They are probably not affected by your traps because they usually have a sweetener added to attract ants. These ants in particular usually feed on other insects, so they prefer greasy and protein rich foods. You could put a strawberry and a french fry next to each other, and they will likely swarm the french fry.

I got rid of the ants in my kitchen by finding their point of entry, misting it with water, and coating the area with cinnamon. I also try to keep my stove very clean, especially after cooking greasy foods.

By parmnparsley — On Mar 12, 2011

How do you get rid of ants? I have tried using ant traps, but they don't seem to work for the little ants that I have. They are very small; requiring a magnifying glass to see any detail. They are harmless, non-biting ants but they are a nuisance.

The ants only come inside when the gardeners spray pesticides (that's the only time I get any bugs in my house). I have actually gotten into arguments with my HOA about spraying pesticides for this very reason. I don't see the point because I am totally fine with the bugs being outside...where they belong. If anyone knows how to stop these little pests from settling in my home, I would appreciate the advice.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a All Things Nature contributor, Tricia...
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