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Where ants go when nature calls: Ants use corners of their nest as 'toilets'

Date:
February 18, 2015
Source:
PLOS
Summary:
Ants may use the corners of their nest as 'toilets,' according to a new study. Little research has been done on ant sanitary behavior, so the authors of this study conducted an experiment to determine whether distinct brown patches they observed forming in ants' nests were feces. They fed ants, living in white plaster nests, food dyed with either red or blue food coloring and observed the nests for the colorful feces.
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Here are 21 plaster nests which had been inhabited by 150-300 Lasius niger workers for two months. Dark colored patches (= toilets) can be seen in every nest. The color of the patch corresponds to the color of the sugar solution the ants were fed.
Credit: Czaczkes et al.; CC-BY

Ants may use the corners of their nest as 'toilets,' according to a study published February 18, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tomer Czaczkes and colleagues from University of Regensburg, Germany.

Little research has been done on ant sanitary behavior, so the authors of this study conducted an experiment to determine whether distinct brown patches they observed forming in ants' nests were feces. They fed ants, living in white plaster nests, food dyed with either red or blue food coloring and observed the nests for the colorful feces.

They found that one or two corners of each nest started to fill with feces that was the same color as the food they were fed. The researchers found no other waste in these areas, suggesting that ants may use these areas as 'toilets.' They also discovered that the ants didn't just put their toilets anywhere--almost all the ants placed their toilets in the corners.

"For ants, which like us live in very dense communities, sanitation is a big problem," says Dr. Tomer Czaczkes, who led the study. "Ants normally keep a very clean nest, and usually throw out dangerous rubbish, like food remains and corpses."

The researchers are still not quite sure why the ants do this, but suggest that perhaps the piled-up waste might be useful. "Some insects use feces for defense, as building materials, as manure for their crops, and as markings. Perhaps these toilets are also gardens for crops, or even stores for valuable nutrients," added Dr. Czaczkes. Maybe, though, the ants just don't want to go outside to do their business.


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Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tomer J. Czaczkes, Jürgen Heinze, Joachim Ruther. Nest Etiquette—Where Ants Go When Nature Calls. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (2): e0118376 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118376

Cite This Page:

PLOS. "Where ants go when nature calls: Ants use corners of their nest as 'toilets'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218145527.htm>.
PLOS. (2015, February 18). Where ants go when nature calls: Ants use corners of their nest as 'toilets'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218145527.htm
PLOS. "Where ants go when nature calls: Ants use corners of their nest as 'toilets'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218145527.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

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