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Monday, June 06, 2005

"Mad as a Meat Ant"

This paper "Dietary fats and body lipid composition in relation to hibernation in free-ranging echidnas" by Falkenstein et al. has, I think, solved an old puzzle for me. Years ago I noticed that our housecats were very excited and pleased by the scent of crushed meat ants (Iridomyrmex) on my boots. I assumed that there was something in the ants' bodies that "turned on" cats, and I actually did some experiments with formic acid, without success. I found the Falkenstein paper recently, which mentions the abundance of oleic acid in meat ant bodies. I also found out very recently that oleic acid is one of the important constituents of the pheromone that cats wipe on objects with their chins. It is possible to buy a synthetic mixture of fatty acids - including mostly oleic acid - which can be sprayed around a home to comfort cats and improve their behaviour in various ways. So - I now surmise that what my cats were reacting to so delightedly was the oleic acid released by the crushed meat ants.

Julian

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