Honeypot ants, also called honey ants, are ants which have specialized workers (“repletes”) that are gorged with food by workers to the point that their abdomens swell enormously, a condition called plerergate. Other ants then extract nourishment from them. They function as living larders. Honeypot ants belong to any of five genera, including Myrmecocystus. They were first documented in 1881 by Henry C. McCook.
Many insects, notably honey bees and some wasps, collect and store liquid for use at a later date. However, these insects store their food within their nest or in combs. Honey ants are unique in using their own bodies as living storage, but they have more function than just storing food. Some store liquids, body fat, and water from insect prey brought to them by worker ants.
They can later serve as a food source for their fellow ants when food is otherwise scarce. When the liquid stored inside a honeypot ant is needed, the worker ants stroke the antennae of the honeypot ant, causing the honeypot ant to regurgitate the stored liquid. In certain places such as the Australian Outback, honeypot ants are eaten by aboriginal people as sweets and are considered a delicacy.
Some worker ants turn into honeypots right from their emergence from pupa stage. The young ants stay in the nest, and the worker ants who collect food feed them. As the workers feed them with more food than they need, the surplus nutrients get stored in their abdomens. As their abdomens expand, the ants lose their mobility.