Image: Who ate my cake?

Who ate my cake?

I’d left the cake on the counter to cool. Having seen a couple of ants in the kitchen, I made sure to put the cake on a tall cooling rack and covered it with a cloth.

A few hours later, I returned to a cake COVERED in ants.

Step 1: grab cake pan and throw it in the backyard (do this while emitting a high pitched squeal)
Step 2: wipe down the counters and cupboards and any ants still present
Step 3: start making new cake for neighbor’s birthday
Step 4: design fancy new ant-proof cooling rack
Step 5: post about ant-cake on Facebook

Since many of my friends are biologists, I received odd comments on my post: Did it smell like blue cheese when I squished them? How big were they? What color?
I had no idea how to identify a species of ant. So I went to a logical starting point, the School of Ants Identification graph. How many petioles? What shape? Clubbed antennae?

Ok, so I admit that I have a microscope in my house. Really. It’s a very old microscope – very dirty and doesn’t focus very well – but it does the job. I narrowed down my ant to one of two species (mostly because I couldn’t see whether the ant had a hairy butt):
The Forelius Ant or Odorous House Ant

According to Dr. Eleanor, the Forelius is reddish (not my ant) and has a chemical cleaner smell if you squish them. I squished an ant and sniffed… chemical (kind of like a whiteboard cleaner). These ants also have a really cool relationship with Catalpa trees, but that doesn’t help me answer the identity question.
The Odorous House Ants are black and, when squished, smell like blue cheese or coconut. They have a cool relationship with a caterpillar, but again, I was getting distracted.

So, I’m still not sure which species ate my cake. But I sure did learn a lot about ant anatomy (and smells)!

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