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.
Field of Research
059999 Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified