This week my son and I have been watching a toothbrush. No, we haven't gone bonkers. This does have something to do with ants.
You see, we saw this post about an unusual Ant-traction. It seems that a certain type of ant likes the rubbery buttons Colgate toothbrushes. Go check it out. Here's a link to the original post, as well.
The first thing we wondered, of course, was whether this is a prank or hoax. I think you could get the same effect by rubbing a little sugar water or honey on the brush.
We bought a toothbrush to check it out. So far our fire ants, Solenopsis xyloni, could care less about the toothbrush. But that doesn't mean the effect isn't real. It could be that the rubbery bit contains a pheromone specific to one or a few closely-related species of ants. We are going to continue our experiments.
If there turns out to be something to this, it won't be the first time humans have inadvertently produced a product that mimics an insect pheromone. One classic example is the finding that termites of the species Reticulotermes flavipes will follow an ink trail drawn by a certain type of pen. (See for example, this experiment).
If you'd like to learn more, here is a video showing EO Wilson explaining some of the basics of pheromones and other chemical signals in ants:
We'll let you know if we get any ants to react.
And please let us know if you try this experiment, what your results were, and what kinds of ants you used.