Where Do Insects Poop?
Everybody poops. This is a fact of life. But while it’s relatively easy for us to spot mammals relieving themselves, witnessing insects doing their business is a little more rare. You may not even recognize insect poop when you see it. So how do these small critters answer nature’s call? It depends on the species.
1. Black ants have toilet areas.
Scientists at the University of Regensburg in Germany spent seven years observing black garden ants and discovered that they create distinct toilet regions in their nests. While the ants kept waste like dead members of the colony, debris from nest material, and food scraps outside, they defecated inside, usually in the corner of their chamber. The biologists tracked this by feeding them brightly colored sucralose, but remain uncertain as to the reason behind this behavior.
2. Leafcutter ants make fertilizer.
Leafcutter ants use the leaf bits they collect to cultivate a fungus that they later consume, and they add a bit of their own feces to fertilize the process. These underground fungus farms can produce more than a ton of fungus a year.
3. Honey bees take poop flights.
Honey bees are too polite to foul up their hives. Instead, they take a quick “cleansing flight.” But these tend to be seasonal, as bees don’t leave the hive in the coldest days of winter, when they cluster inside to keep warm. When the temperature reaches above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they leave the hive en masse for one large group poop. (Do not park your car under a bee flight route.)
Unfortunately, sick bees aren’t quite as tidy. Bees can get an infection similar to dysentery, and will leave diarrhea spots all over the honeycomb and exterior of their hive [PDF]. Mmm, honey.
4. Stingless bees employ janitors.
Stingless bees (Meliponinae) have specialized members of the hive dedicated to waste removal. Bees around 18 to 20 days old remove cocoon pellets (comprised of wax, feces, and the cocoon itself) from the hive, cleaning up after pupation.
5. Caterpillars fling their poop away as fast as they can.
Caterpillars that build and live in leaf shelters have a tendency to “ballistically eject their individual fecal pellets (frass) great distances at great speed,” a 2003 study notes. They can throw their poop distances of up to 40 times their body length. This seems to be a defensive behavior rather than a matter of hygiene—it eliminates chemical traces of the caterpillars’ presence, inhibiting their detection by predators like wasps.
6. Termites mix poop into the walls of their nests.
The termite Coptotermes formosanus uses feces to build its nest. Living in a poop house helps the termites fend off diseases, because beneficial bacteria feed on the termite waste. It's sort of like building your home out of antibiotics...but grosser.