Why would ants want toenail clippings?

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Offline thedoc

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Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« on: 15/11/2016 12:39:15 »
chester asked the Naked Scientists:































   My wife clipped her fingernails outdoors on our patio.  A few minutes later small ants appeared and carried the clippings to their underground abode.  the clippings were sometimes bigger than the ants carrying them and all of the clippings were picked up.  can you explain what was going on?































What do you think?
« Last Edit: 15/11/2016 12:39:15 by _system »

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Online evan_au

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #1 on: 12/08/2016 11:00:30 »
Fingernails are made of protein, keratin.
Maybe these ants needed protein?

Hair is also made of keratin; try dropping some hair clippings, and see if they carry those away too?

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Offline chris

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #2 on: 12/08/2016 16:35:00 »
I'd be surprised, though, if ants can actually use keratin, because it's notoriously indigestible. It's mainly moth species that have the prerequisite enzymic machinery, as evidenced by the clothes in my wardrobe...
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Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #3 on: 13/08/2016 12:31:58 »
It's well documented that some fungi can digest keratin and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%E2%80%93fungus_mutualism
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Offline alancalverd

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #4 on: 13/08/2016 13:16:44 »
The ants are trying to clone human zombies. I thought everyone knew that.
helping to stem the tide of ignorance

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Offline JimBob

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #5 on: 17/08/2016 05:22:28 »
I am going to go with the skin cells from the nail bed, skin cells that are drug (or dragged from) said nail bed.
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Offline chris

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #6 on: 19/08/2016 09:04:24 »
It's well documented that some fungi can digest keratin and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%E2%80%93fungus_mutualism

I looked at this reference but I couldn't see anything about keratin-digesting fungi and ant mutualism. Was this speculation on your part based on the fact that they do this with leaves etc, or did I miss the crucial detail on the page?

Thanks
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Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #7 on: 20/08/2016 12:58:54 »
It's well documented that some fungi can digest keratin and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%E2%80%93fungus_mutualism

I looked at this reference but I couldn't see anything about keratin-digesting fungi and ant mutualism. Was this speculation on your part based on the fact that they do this with leaves etc, or did I miss the crucial detail on the page?

Thanks
It's speculative, but the "ingredients" are there.
Ants collect stuff to feed to fungi.
Some fungi are able to digest keratin (athletes' foot for a start)
There is a potential benefit in collecting keratin because it has a high nitrogen content.

(And before mankind was in the habit of leaving keratin based nail clippings, birds left feathers and just about everything left bits of skin so evolution has had plenty of time for ants to to "learn" this behaviour)
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Offline chris

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #8 on: 20/08/2016 15:59:56 »
I wonder if the ants "knew" what they were collecting, or whether they based their foraging decision on the odour emanating from the toenail clippings, perhaps mistaking them for cheese...?
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception - Groucho Marx

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Offline exothermic

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #9 on: 27/08/2016 01:41:10 »
I'd be surprised, though, if ants can actually use keratin, because it's notoriously indigestible. It's mainly moth species that have the prerequisite enzymic machinery

Ants notoriously harvest keratin for the protein content. Formicidae acquire proficient mandibular and salivary gland digestive enzyme activity. Likewise from the foregut, midgut, and hindgut.


It's mainly moth species that have the prerequisite enzymic machinery

beetles > moths > ants

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Offline exothermic

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #10 on: 27/08/2016 08:22:32 »
Ants notoriously harvest keratin for the protein content.

Ants will actually trim the base of the eyelids of cadavers to harvest the keratin. Likewise, excoriation of the lips and knuckles are quite common areas.

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Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #11 on: 27/08/2016 11:29:15 »
Ants notoriously harvest keratin for the protein content.

Ants will actually trim the base of the eyelids of cadavers to harvest the keratin. Likewise, excoriation of the lips and knuckles are quite common areas.

That's interesting; and slightly gross.
:-)
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Offline exothermic

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Re: Why would ants want toenail clippings?
« Reply #12 on: 27/08/2016 14:12:19 »
Ants notoriously harvest keratin for the protein content. Ants will actually trim the base of the eyelids of cadavers to harvest the keratin. Likewise, excoriation of the lips and knuckles are quite common areas.

That's interesting; and slightly gross.
:-)

Autopsy problems associated with postmortem ant activity

Free PDF with a few pics available here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiYgavX0-HOAhVEgx4KHRL8ADYQFgg8MAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.researchgate.net%2Fpublication%2F279896093_Autopsy_problems_associated_with_postmortem_ant_activity&usg=AFQjCNFLno1BHR4NTKLVkJeM9BD-5Sm-BA&sig2=c2PdneRc6R0KN_WXFVABog