|MadSci Network: Zoology|
Crystal Reynolds asked:
What is the scientific name for an ant found with a green abdomen?
While on vacation on Fitzroy Island (in Cairns, Australia), I was on a tour of the land. The tour guide pointed out small ants on the side of a tree. These ants had a light green abdomen. It was explained that the Aborigines had used these ants for firmer breasts and tighter thighs. It was said that the women would lick about 100 a day because the abdomen contained estrogen. They said it was alright to lick one and when I did it tasted like sour pink lemonade. Any information on the ant or a scientific name would be greatly appreciated.
I think the animal you are referring to is Oecophylla smaragdina, commonly known in tropical parts of Australia as "the green tree ant" (!?!). They are also often called "weaver ants" because of the way in which they build their nests, decribed here in the Insects of Australia (CSIRO Australia, 1970):
"However, perhaps the most striking example of the use of silk in construction of terrestrial shelters is found in the green tree ant, Oecophylla smaragdina. The workers draw the leaves of plants together, often forming living chains of ants clinging to each other with jaws and legs. Other workers then bring advanced larvae from existing nests, and use them as living shuttles to bind the edges of the leaves together with the silk that they secrete."
These ants are very abundant through tropical Australia (and can be a bit of a nuisance for us when gardening or bush walking). The authors of Insect Ecology (EG Matthews & RL Kitching, 1976) describe aborigines eating these ants:
"The leafy nests are gathered and the larvae contained within are rolled into balls and eaten directly...or the entire nests and their contents of immatures, adults and inquilines are crushed and strained through a mesh basket, with the addition of water. The liquid is then drunk, producing what observers have described as a 'pleasant acid drink', or a drink 'like lemonade'".
Not something I would care for myself! But Crystal's description of their taste is very accurate.
Apparently the nests of these ants are often invaded by other insects, often butterflies or moths, which parasitise or prey upon the ant larvae inside. There is this decription in Insect Ecology of the behaviour of one butterfly:
"In spilte of the hostility of the ant prey, Oecophylla smaragdina, the thick-skinned slug-like caterpillars penetrate their nests, eat the brood and subsequently pupate. On emergence, the butterfly is covered with deciduous scales, which foul the ants' mandibles."
Definitions from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of the Life Sciences.
Keith A. McGuinness
School of Biological & Environmental Sciences
Northern Territory University
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