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A man was recently lost in the Outback and survived for six days in hot conditions without any water. Many news reports are claiming that he survived this long without water because he ate ants.

For example, here are a CNN report and Newsweek.

Some of the reports mention that ants are nutritious, and provide information about that. But none have any evidence that ants could be a significant source of water. The claim seems to be simply based on the man's observation that he ate ants, and then lived longer than expected, but it is now being reported as fact.

I am quite skeptical that they would provide enough water to add meaningfully to survival--and misconceptions about what one should do to survive in the wilderness can be quite dangerous.

  • About 60% of the human body is water, most of it intracellular fluid. I can't find any exact number, but ants will also contain a significant amount of water and are very likely to be usable as a water source. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 3 '15 at 16:51
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo, I could not find information on the water content of ants; obviously they have some, but how much? And of course they are tiny. If ants are 60% water you would need to eat nearly a pound of them to get one cup of water, expending lots of energy in the process. – user11522 Nov 3 '15 at 17:07
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    A BBC report quoted him as saying: "On the first day I had about 12 and on the second day about 18." Maybe Australian ants are big but it doesn't sound like a useful amount of water. – RedGrittyBrick Nov 4 '15 at 14:43
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They are probably talking about honeypot ants. Not your average ant, but a specialized ant that serves as living tanks in the ant's colony. They are a traditional treat for Australian Aboriginal peoples.

honyepot ant picture source : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Honey_Ants_%287344580116%29.jpg

I don't have a source for the nutritional contents of honeypot ants, but I assume that it must be not far from honey, maybe with more water.

  • The nutritional contents would be important to know, as I have always heard it explained that they store food for the ants, not water. And in general, eating food actually drains water from your body. – Jonathon Nov 7 '15 at 6:43
  • "They are probably talking about..." isn't very convincing. Can you find a reference that this is, indeed, what the man ate? – Flimzy Nov 8 '15 at 20:07
  • No, I can't. I have heard about this case only here and I don't know where to find more information about this particular case. Furthermore the original question is whether it is possible to survive longer by eating ants. My answer is only providing general information on a kind of ants that makes it more plausible. I acknowledge that it is not totally satisfying but I am neither an entomologist nor nutritionist, so we will have to wait for someone else to provide additional information. – Quentin Nov 9 '15 at 6:58

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