Honey Pot Ants

ORDER: Hymenoptera

FAMILY: Formicidae

GENUS: Myrmecocystus

SPECIES: mimicus

6-12mm in length. Dark reddish brown color. Distended abdomens of the storage ants look like amber beads with short dark strips (separated abdominal plates).

Deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.

Omnivorous. Nectar and other sugary plant secretions, aphid honeydew, insects.

Diurnal. Workers collect nectar and honeydew which is stored in their stomachs until they reach their nests. There it is distributed by regurgitation to their larvae and sister ants. Some of the individuals serve as a storage caste; they take in large quantities of honey which is kept undigested in a part of the abdomen known as the gaster. These individuals, known as repletes, cling to the ceiling of the nest and serve as living storage pots. During drought when foraging ants cannot find food, they solicit food from the repletes. Colonies of honey pot ants will engage in territorial disputes, most of which are solved by display. However, when one colony is decisively stronger (e.g. ten times as many combatants), a battle will break out, with the larger force fighting its way into the nest of the opponent and killing all workers and the queen. Larvae, pupae and the youngest workers, as well as the repletes, are captured and dragged back to conquerers' nests where they become members of that colony.

The part of the abdomen known as the gaster can become greatly distended to hold food. The stretched skin cannot contract again; thus repletes cannot return to a normal existence and will probably die when their supply is exhausted.

This is one of several genera of honey or honey-pot ants found in dry or desert regions of Australia, Africa or North America. The honey is a sugary solution obtained by the ants from aphids and nectar and in America, also from the secretion of a gall growing on small oak trees. Their method of food storage developed in deserts where the source of food is not available during long periods of drought. Honey storage ants have long been esteemed as an item of food by native peoples.

The Honey Pot Ants can be found in the Bug House in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo.

Not endangered. This animal has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN.


  1. Burton, Maurice and Robert. Encyclopedia of Insects and Arachnids. 1984. BPC Publishing Ltd.
  2. Hollldobler, Bert and Edward Wilson. Journey to the Ants. 1994. Harvard Univ. Press.
  3. Arnett, Ross and Richard Jacques, Jr. Simon and Schuster