Article Spotlight: Unique antimicrobial activity in honey from the Australian Honeypot Ant

by | Oct 26, 2023 | Article Spotlight

"Western science catches up with First Nations' medicinal use of ant honey"

Scientists have discovered that honey produced by Australian ants possesses unique anti-microbial activity against bacteria and fungi that could make the liquid useful medicinally.

The research, published in PeerJ, was led by Andrew Dong and Dr Kenya Fernandes from the University of Sydney’s Carter Lab, which is led by Professor Dee Carter from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases.

The team studied the Australian honeypot ant, Camponotus inflatus, which is found throughout desert areas mainly in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.


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“It was quite amazing that the activity of the honey was so specific against some pathogens and not others, The honey was really active against some of the fungi that we consider to be really tough and really hard to kill, like Aspergillus and Cryptococcus.”
Dr Kenya Fernandes

Co-Author, the University of Sydney

For All Readers - AI Explainer


This groundbreaking study delves into the antimicrobial potential of honeypot ant honey (HPAH), a natural substance long valued by Indigenous Australians. Unlike honey bee honey, HPAH exhibits unique non-peroxide antimicrobial activity, suggesting the presence of distinctive compounds. The research explored HPAH’s effectiveness against various pathogens, revealing its potency against specific bacteria and fungi, potentially due to evolutionary pressures in the ants’ arid environment. Additionally, the study unveiled the microbial makeup of honeypot ants, shedding light on their symbiotic relationships, which might influence the honey’s properties.

Q. What sets honeypot ant honey apart from honey bee honey in terms of antimicrobial activity?

A: HPAH differs significantly from honey bee honey in its antimicrobial properties. While both types of honey possess healing qualities, HPAH’s unique non-peroxide mechanisms make it distinct. The study found that HPAH outperforms therapeutic-grade jarrah and manuka honeys against certain pathogens. This specificity suggests that honeypot ants have evolved to combat particular microbes, leading to variable activity against different bacteria and fungi. Unlike bee honey, HPAH’s antimicrobial potency appears to stem from a combination of factors, including potential antimicrobial peptides unique to honeypot ants. 

Q: How does the honeypot ant environment influence its honey’s antimicrobial properties?

A: Honeypot ants inhabit arid regions, which likely influenced their resistance to specific fungi and bacteria prevalent in such environments. For instance, HPAH exhibited robust activity against Aspergillus sp. and Cryptococcus sp., common in hot, arid climates, highlighting evolutionary adaptations. Additionally, honeypot ants’ unique diet, primarily consisting of honeydew and sugary secretions, might contribute to the antimicrobial peptides found in HPAH, differentiating it from other honeys.

Q: What insights did the study provide about the honeypot ant’s microbiome?

A: The study revealed that over 99% of the honeypot ant’s bacterial microbiome comprises Candidatus Blochmannia, an essential mutualistic partner. Blochmannia likely aids in nutrient processing and immune modulation, enabling honeypot ants to thrive on their specific diet. Additionally, the fungal microbiome, previously unexplored in Camponotus species, showcased dominance by Neocelosporium, an environmental saprotroph. The presence of these microbes might influence the honey’s properties, suggesting a complex relationship between the ant’s microbiota and the honey it produces.

Q: What are the potential implications of this research in the field of medicine and antimicrobial therapy?

A: This research opens new avenues in the search for novel antimicrobial agents. The unique compounds found in HPAH, potentially including specific antimicrobial peptides, could inspire the development of innovative therapeutic applications. Understanding the interplay between the ants, their environment, and their symbiotic partners offers valuable insights into nature’s solutions for combating pathogens. Exploring lesser-known honey-producing species like honeypot ants could revolutionize our approach to antimicrobial therapy and broaden our understanding of the diverse world of natural remedies.



Unique antimicrobial activity in honey from the Australian Honeypot Ant

Honey produced by the Australian honeypot ant (Camponotus inflatus) is valued nutritionally and medicinally by Indigenous peoples, but its antimicrobial activity has never been formally studied. Here, we determine the activity of honeypot ant honey (HPAH) against a panel of bacterial and fungal pathogens, investigate its chemical properties, and profile the bacterial and fungal microbiome of the honeypot ant for the first time.

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