As a small child I can remember being carried by the women on their shoulders in search of honey ants and witchetty grubs. This was always a great time and we would generally be away for most of the day. As I grew older of course I walked and ran ahead with the other children. Then there would be shout as someone identified a place to dig for honey ants.
This was in central Australia in the Great Victoria Desert where the honey ants build their nests in the red sandy soil under a tree or bush with the entrance camouflaged by dead leaves and litter. The honey ants collect nectar from insects and then they store the honey in their abdomens.
The Aboriginal women start digging away from the from the entrance hole, digging around to find the side chambers where the storer or ‘replete’ ants reside. Sometimes holes have to be dug 1.5 metres deep to reach the storage chambers and a few ants.
The repletes hang from the ceiling of the underground chambers and in lean times when food is scarce they are able to provide this wonderful honeydew for the colony. The women carefully remove the ants and put them up beside the hole and we would suck the honey from the bloated golden coloured abdomens of the storers. Honey ants are not just found in Australia and also occur in South Africa, Australia and South America represented by 34 species.