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Ants can produce “milk” to nourish themselves and their offspring,

Researcher Orli Snir initially noticed that the pupae of clonal raider ants would produce a watery, golden-tinted fluid that would eventually drown them if the strange goo was not removed, the New York Times reported.

This was puzzling because the pupae stage is considered a passive state in the ant’s lifecycle: It starts as a worm-like larva, seals itself into the rice-looking pupa and then becomes a full-fledged ant.

Still, past studies have documented this milk-like substance from pupae but have never fully explored it until now.

In a new study, Snir and her colleagues added some blue food coloring to pupae shells and closely observed the actions of the ant colony. Within a few hours, she noticed that both adults and larvae took on the blue tint, which means they fed on the pupae goo.

The findings also showed that adults would also place the younger larvae on top of the pupae to feed on the secretions, which early analysis show contains hormones and neuroactive compounds.

Similar milk-like secretions were also seen in four other ant species, the researchers added.

They explained that the study unveils a web of codependent relationships in ant colonies: Adults and youngsters need the milk to feed on, otherwise the pupae will die. And if the colony’s youngest members don’t consume the goo, they are more likely to die.

The authors added that the findings also help understand ant species as a whole, such as how the present-day insects developed into tight-knit social colonies.

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