myrmeco-, myrmec-, myrme-, myrmic-, myrmi- +
(Greek: ant, ants)
Honey ants develop specialized workers, called repletes or honey pots, that store nectar within balloon-like abdomens swollen to a centimeter or more in diameter.
When a colony needs food, the repletes regurgitate their reserves to their normally-proportioned sisters.
All live in dry habitats and have polymorphic or variably-sized workers. In most polymorphic ants, the larger workers serve as colony defenders, but in honey ants they become repletes.
Ants that are Living Honey Pots for their Hive Members
Honey ants survive from late fall until early summer by storing liquid food; not in hives or holes, but in the bodies of special workers.
These living storage tanks are fed to the bursting point by their fellow hive members and with their sacs fully swollen, the ants become immobile, never to walk again. Sometimes they get so much honey that they burst.
At night, the colony workers scurry forth from their nests to harvest sweet honeydew from galls, or globular swellings, on the twigs of nearby shin oaks.
Tiny cynipid wasps make the galls by laying eggs in the twigs and as the young wasps develop inside the plant tissues they irritate the plant tissue to the point of causing malformations.
Inside the galls, sugars are produced and the excess is secreted onto the outside surfaces in small droplets, and this nectar is what attracts the honey ants.
The worker ants move from one gall to another and as time passes, their abdomens slowly become swollen with honeydew. Like many others of its family, every honey ant has a community, or pantry, stomach in which food may be stored and then regurgitated to feed fellow members of the colony.
Some of the other foraging members of the hive go to wild rosebushes and find a second source of honey ant food where they "milk" a herd of aphids, or plant lice, from whom honey-dew is secreted by special glands on these "ant cows" which is collected by most sweet-eating ants.
Swollen "Repletes" Stay in the Hive
Back in the nest, the honeydew is regurgitated from the crops of the foragers and drunk by chosen workers. After awhile, the abdomens of these living casks become so distended that the ants can no longer move about in a normal fashion, instead they remain suspended from the arched ceilings of the subterranean chambers by the tiny claws on their feet.
These individuals are called "repletes" and once they have embarked upon their careers as community reservoirs, they never leave the nest again. Like clusters of small glossy grapes, they remain suspended month after month in total darkness and as many as 300 repletes may dangle from the ceilings in a colony's galleries.
Every so often, in the dry season, a hungry worker ant approaches a replete and solicits food by placing her mouth against that of the replete and a droplet passes between them. The worker may also pass the honey on to other laborers of the colony, to the queen, or to immature ants.
Biologists believe a replete lives about two years and when it dies, it is usually dismembered and carried off to a "cemetery chamber".
2. An ant-inhabited cavity in plant tissue.