Ant biology: July 2013 Archives



I have another question involving ants.

About three years ago, I put a hummingbird feeder outside my office in the home. I fill it with a mixture that is four parts water and one party plain old white sugar.
A few female and male hummingbirds visit every day.

However, black ants would also walk down the pole that the feeder hangs from and actually enter through the holes designed to admit hummingbird beaks and wind up dead in the so-called nectar inside the feeder. I looked for an online solution and found what is called an "ant moat." It's the red cylinder that the feeder is suspended from. It holds water and this prevents ants from crawling down to the feeder.

It works great and I haven't had a single drowned ant in the nectar since I installed the ant moat.

Amazingly, though, over the last two years I've only seen one ant actually walk down the pole, discover the moat, and retreat. *Just one*. Granted I'm not watching every minute, but I'm looking out there enough to be surprised that I've only seen one ant and that was last year when I first installed the moat.

It strikes me that perhaps that original ant left a chemical message for others that communicates that the nectar is inaccessible so don't even try.

What do you think?

Many thanks,

Ted

AntMoatHB-Feeder.jpg
* * *

Dear Ted,

Thanks for all of the details on your ant deterrent, it seems to be quite effective! In fact, there are many potential ways that the colony of ants learned to avoid your trap, likely involving some of the avenues of ant communication discussed in this post. One thing to keep in mind is that collective foraging often works on signals of reinforcement by multiple foragers. Thus, if none of the ants were able to return back to the nest with the nectar, then they would have a hard time "convincing" any other ants to forage in that direction, and there would be little reason to walk towards the moat other than random chance.

Hope this helps!

Max Winston & the AntAsk Team

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