Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 437–439 | Cite as

‘Anting’ as food preparation: formic acid is worse on an empty stomach

  • Olivia P. Judson
  • Andrew T. D. Bennett


Anting is a behavior common among passerine birds, yet its function is unknown. The behavior consists of a highly stereotyped set of movements which start when a bird picks up an ant, usually one which sprays formic acid as a defense, and sweeps it with frenzied motions through its feathers. The bird will often also eat the ant. As formic acid is toxic, we have tested the food-preparation hypothesis, that is, that the birds are anting to remove a distasteful or toxic substance from the ant before eating it. In a pair of experiments on starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, we have found evidence in support of this hypothesis.


Formic Acid Toxic Substance Food Preparation Empty Stomach Passerine Bird 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adlersparre A (1936) Zum Thema “Vögel und Ameisen”. Ornithol Monatsber 44:129–135Google Scholar
  2. Aitken M, Anderson D, Francis B, Hinde J (1987) Statistical modeling in GLIM. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. Ali S (1936) Do birds employ ants to rid themselves of ectoparasites? J. Bombay Nat Hist Soc 38:628–631Google Scholar
  4. Budavari S (ed) (1989) The Merck index and encyclopedia of chemicals, drugs, and biologicals, 11th edn. Merck Publications, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  5. Chisholm AH (1944) The problem of anting. Ibis 86:389–405Google Scholar
  6. Chisholm AH (1959) The history of anting. Emu 59:101–130Google Scholar
  7. Ehrlich PR, Dobkin DS, Wheye D (1986) The adaptive significance of anting. Auk 103:835Google Scholar
  8. Eichler W (1936) Der biologie der Federlinge. J Ornithol Leipzig 84:490–491Google Scholar
  9. JT Baker Chemical Company (1986) Material safety data sheet. JT Baker Chemical Company, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  10. Kelso L (1946) Irradiation, vitamin D, preening, and anting. Biol Leaflet 35:1–2Google Scholar
  11. Löfqvist J (1976) Formic acid and saturated hydrocarbons as alarm pheromones for the ant Formica rufa. J Insect Physiol 22:1331–1346Google Scholar
  12. Poulsen H (1956) Experiments on anting by birds. Acta XI Congr Intern Orn 1954(Basel):608–610Google Scholar
  13. Potter EF (1970) Anting in wild birds, its frequency and probable purpose. Auk 87:692–713Google Scholar
  14. Reynolds J, Prasad A (eds) (1982) Martindale: the extra pharmacopoeia. The Pharmaceutical Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. Schmidt-Nielsen K (1979) Animal physiology: adaptation and environment, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Siegel S, Castellan NJ Jr (1988) Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences, 2nd edn. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Simmons KEL (1966) Anting and the problem of self-stimulation. J Zool London 149:145–162Google Scholar
  18. Simmons KEL (1985) Anting. In: Campbell B, Lack E (eds) A dictionary of birds. Vermillion, South Dakota, p 19Google Scholar
  19. Spencer R, Nichols L, Lipkin G, Sabo H, West F (1989) Clinical pharmacology and nursing management, 3rd edn. JB Lippincott Company, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  20. Whitaker LM (1957) A resume of anting, with particular reference to a captive orchard oriole. Wilson Bull 69:195–262PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivia P. Judson
    • 1
  • Andrew T. D. Bennett
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyEdward Grey Institute of Field OrnithologyOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations