These Rainbow-colored Transparent Ants Are What They Eat | Science | Smithsonian
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These Rainbow-colored Transparent Ants Are What They Eat

Droplets of food coloring and an exotic species of Indian ant made for a stunning set of photographs

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These ants’ transparent abdomens change to the color of their food after eating. Photo by Mohamed Babu/Solent News/Rex F/AP Images

Not long ago, Dr. Mohamed Babu, of Mysore, South India, noticed something strange about the ants scurrying around on the floor of his kitchen: After drinking some spilled milk, their abdomens turned white. Realizing the insects’ bodies were transparent, he got an idea for a stunning set of photographs, he told the Daily Mail.

Mixing different varieties of food coloring along with sugar, water and a waxy base, he set out small droplets of liquid on a white plastic sheet outside in his garden and let the ants do the rest. “As the ant’s abdomen is semi-transparent, the ants gain the colors as they sip the liquid,” he said. 

Photo by Mohamed Babu/Solent News/Rex F/AP Images

Striving to get the best possible photos, Babu ran into an unexpected problem: too many ants. “I really toiled to get a photo,” he said. “The crowd always used to become unmanageable within a few minutes and while I managed my camera with my right hand, my left hand was busy removing the extra ants.” After a number of repeated attempts, he finally got the photos he was looking for.

Photo by Mohamed Babu/Solent News/Rex F/AP Images

The impromptu experiment also allowed Babu to learn about the ants’ color preferences. “Curiously, the ants preferred light colors—yellow and green,” he said. “The darker green and blue drops had no takers, until there was no space around the preferred yellow and green drops.” Some of the ants even wandered between the colors, creating unique mixtures of different hues inside their own stomachs.

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