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Do you feed your ants honey? It might be time to make sure of your source.

According to this article in Western Farm Press, the Chinese have been exporting a lot of honey to the United States and that "the laundered Chinese honey often contains harmful antibiotics, lead, molasses, fructose, farm chemicals..."

That last part caught my attention. I often offer ants a mixture of honey-water if I need to hold them for a few days or if I want them to hold still for a photograph. Even though the article is a bit, er, flamboyant, perhaps it is time to evaluate the source of the honey I purchase more carefully.

Unfortunately, just because the bottle says "Made in the USA" there is evidence that at least some of the honey may be from imported sources. Natural honey contains bits of pollen and investigators realized that by identifying sources of the pollen in a given batch of honey they could identify the area of origin of the honey. The smugglers quickly began filtering the honey to remove any traces of pollen. Now investigators look for the amount of pollen in samples of honey and if they don't find any pollen, it is a good chance the honey came from a filtered foreign source. This article at CNN names stores that were tested and the results.

Although steps are probably being taken to remedy the situation, it seems like it is a good time to establish a relationship with your local beekeepers.

The original report:

Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves at Food Safety News

It is not often you catch a glimpse of a stick insect out and about like this one I found basking on a wall a couple of years ago.

Members of the order Phasmatodea, these insects are also commonly called walkingsticks.

Why would I be featuring walkingsticks in a blog about ants?

Actually walkingsticks and ants have a very cool relationship, and it is one of my favorite stories to share.

Female walkingsticks are not particularly good mothers. When they lay their eggs, they simply drop them from the trees as they are feeding. This doesn't seem like a safe strategy for making sure the eggs hatch, but female walkingsticks are relying on the services of a nanny on the ground to take care of their eggs.

Walkingstick eggs resemble seeds. In fact, the eggs have a knob on one end, called a capitulum, which looks and functions like an elasiosome of a seed. Ants find the eggs and drag them back to the safety of their underground nest. The ants remove and eat the capitulum, but generally leave the rest of the egg intact. After the walkingstick eggs develop in the nest, sometimes even overwintering there, the young walkingsticks emerge and crawl away from their protected nursery.

David Attenborough has a wonderful discussion of this in his BBC video, Life in the Undergrowth:

Just think, we might not have some types of walkingsticks if it weren't for the services of ants. And you wonder why I'm "wild about ants." 🙂

Remember the television show "Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

Audrey Dussutour was recently quoted in a Wired Magazine article, “If you had a competition between slime molds and ants, the slime molds would win...”

She was talking about the ability of slime molds to "remember" where they had been, even though they have no brains or neurons. (Just for the record, ants do have brains -scroll down to see the cool illustrations).

Let's see these slime molds in action:

Dussutour was basing her comparisons on her earlier work with ant traffic patterns (2009).

What Dussutour and her colleagues are really studying is an organism's ability to chemically mark its environment in order to either revisit or avoid the same position. The slime molds produce a long term slime (mucus) that prevents them from returning to the same spots they have visited previously. Ants, on the other hand, often lay short-term pheromone trails to help guide others to a food source.

An ant running a more complex maze:

Seems like similar mechanisms with different goals.

So, myrmecologists, are we going to take this sitting down? Are slime molds really better at "remembering" where they have been than ants?

References/See Also:

Chris R. Reid, Tanya Latty, Audrey Dussutour, and Madeleine Beekman. (2012). Slime mold uses an externalized spatial “memory” to navigate in complex environments PNAS 2012 109 (43) 17490-17494.

Dussutour, A., Beshers, S., Deneubourg, J. L. and Fourcassié, V. (2009). Priority rules govern the organization of traffic on foraging trails under crowding conditions in the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica. Journal of Experimental Biology,  212 (4): 499-505

Vincent Fourcassié, Audrey Dussutour, and Jean-Louis Deneubourg. (2010). Ant traffic rules. The Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 2357-2363. download for free here

Social Amoeba Practices Agriculture

Memory in Ants

Alex Wild's recent post about photographing slime molds, with great photographs