Just like humans, ants too like cleanliness and make their toilets in the corner of a room, a new study reveals. While investigating the social behaviours of insects, researchers found the black ants have learned over a period of time to deal with wastes they produce and clean the environment in which they live. These black ants don’t keep their faeces outside the living area to protect themselves from deadly animals. Instead, they have a compartment within the living area often termed as ‘kitchen midden’.
For the study, researchers made a dummy living space for black ants and observed their behaviour carefully for two months. In all the 21 nests, distinct dark patches were found. A sugary solution test suggested that all the patches were in the corner of the nest. Each nest contained 1 to 4 patches. These spots indicate that ants have a toilet compartment in their nest. In addition, some ants might make more than one toilet to throw their waste.
However, these patches didn’t contain any debris and weed or any other solid items. Any such items were removed by the ants on a regular basis suggesting that ants might have learned to extract something useful from their faeces. Like the human, they might be using faeces to fertilize the soil.
Some social insects use their waste for several useful purposes like growing fungus that they can eat later. However, no such fungus was observed in the case of black ants. Moreover, they removed any such fungus from their nest if it did grow.
“The growth of micro-organisms on the toilets may be actively inhibited by the ants, perhaps by the application of formic acid or antibiotic secretions. Alternatively, the ants may be using the toilets as a garden, and eating the resulting fruiting bodies, as a way of accessing otherwise inaccessible nutrients from their waste,” said Tomer Czackzkes, a biologist from the University of Regensburg in Germany.
This is first-ever study of signifying the importance of cleanliness among social insects. The study appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.