Archive for the ‘Ant Chemistry’ Category

For those who think ants aren’t good for anything useful, check out this video from Smarter Every Day:

This is an environmental ad campaign waiting to happen!


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As I was looking up some information on diabetes, I happened across this gem, in Principles of Diabetes Mellitus:

Physicians in India at around [1500 BC] developed what can be described as the first clinical test for diabetes. They observed that the urine from people with diabetes attracted ants and flies. They named the condition “madhumeha” or “honey urine”.

I suppose that given ants’ potential ability to predict earthquakes, I shouldn’t be surprised that ants can detect diabetes. As an aside, I didn’t know that higher glucose in urine is a result of diabetes! Yet again, the ants outsmart me.

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From Kingdom of Ants, by E.O. Wilson and José M. Gómez Durán:

The leafcutter ant trail pheromones, identified by twentieth-century elements, have turned out to be extraordinarily efficient in meeting the needs of workers when recruiting nestmates over long distances. The trail pheromone of the North American leafcutter Atta texana, methyl-4-methylpryolle-2-carboxylate, is extraordinarily potent. Entomologists have estimated that 1 milligram of this substance, which seems scarcely a trace to human beings but is roughly the quantity found in an entire colony, if laid out with perfect efficiency, is enough to lead a worker three times around the world. Even more impressive is the estimate that a milligram from the South American grass-cutting leafcutter Atta vollenweideri would suffice to lead a worker sixty times around the earth.

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Obviously, FF has been a little quiet lately. But with the academic year winding down, I am now able to begin posting again. And it’s back to the fundamANTals with this word for Monday Mandarin Meanings:

This is huǒyǐ, the Mandarin word for fire ant, genus Solenopsis. The character on the left, huǒ, is the word for fire. It kind of looks like a fire, too! The character on the right, , is the second character of the word for ant (蚂蚁, ).

Incidentally, I have not yet photographed a fire ant, but Alex Wild over at Myrmecos has this wonderful picture of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta):

I particularly like his caption:

Solenopsis invicta stinging, an activity this species performs with particular zest. To sting, a fire ant first bites her target with her mandibles. The bite anchors her in place and provides leverage to insert the stinger. The bite itself is harmless, it is the subsequent sting that carries the venom and the pain.

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The Mawangdui texts, when discovered, revealed quite a bit about medicine and other aspects of ancient Chinese culture previously unknown. As I was reading over some of the items in the medical text, which dates to the 2nd century BCE, I came across some entomological treatments.

For “Infant-cord Rigidity”, likely some sort of infant ailment, the instructions for concocting the medicinal cure say to “take anthill loam and smith it.” For “Inguinal swelling” (including hernias), the text instructs to “wrap hive-bee eggs [larvae] that have been dried in the dark in cloth”. Alternatively, one can “at dawn take one bee egg [larva]. Soak it in one cup of fine gruel vinegar and give it to the person to drink.”

While such treatments found in these texts are, to my knowledge, rarely implemented today, insects are still being used in attempts to alleviate the illnesses of man. For example, leaf cutter ants have antibiotics, and current research on these ants and their antibacterial mutualists may ultimately contribute to the development of more effective antibiotics for humans. Alas, I have yet to learn of any positive medicinal effects provided by bee larvae. But feel free to comment if you have any pertinent anecdotes!


Donald Harper, Early Chinese Medical Literature: The Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts (London: Kegan Paul International 1998), 221-304.

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Thants, Blants

Merry Christmas and Happy 5th Day of Hanukkah! Below is a video from the highly scientific British TV series “Look Around You”. The whole clip is educational, but the part pertaining to ants begins at around 5:30. Enjoy:

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