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There is place in my house where I cut my nails. Here, there is an ant hole where an ant colony is seen.

Whenever I cut my nails from here, they take my nails inside their hole. I was wondering what they do with them.

Do they protect their houses with them or feed them to their young ones?

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    $\begingroup$ How fast are your nails growing that you cut them daily? (I cut my finger nails about weekly, the toe nails even less often.) $\endgroup$ May 31, 2015 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Me too cut weekly. I was just kidding in comment to MattDMo's answer. :) $\endgroup$ May 31, 2015 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ That is gross.... $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 1, 2015 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD Gross for you, food for them. :D $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2015 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ My pet ant found this page by googling what can we ants do with all these fingernails we've collected. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:40

2 Answers 2

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I believe that MattDMo's hypothesis is incorrect. Only one group of ants, the Attini tribe, cultivates fungus as a food source. This group is exclusively a New World group, thought to have originated in the Amazon rainforest and spread out from there. I see from your profile that you are located in India, which is outside the range of the fungus-cultivating ants.

So if the ants aren't using your fingernails for fungus cultivation, what are they doing with them? Fingernails are primarily composed of keratin, a very tough protein which ants cannot digest. However, it is likely that the clippings also contain materials like dead skin, nail fungus, or other organic substances that the ants can eat, making them worthwhile for the ants to collect.

References:

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the ants are stupid and don't realise fingernails are useless to them. They could smell delicious to an ant but not be usable. $\endgroup$
    – CJ Dennis
    Jun 1, 2015 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the ants are really smart and need the fingernails to complete the human they are building. $\endgroup$
    – Jason C
    Jun 1, 2015 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have any evidence that the only cultivating ants are in the New World? $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 1, 2015 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MattDMo, 10 second Google search found this. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2015 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JasonC This hypothesis and several others have been proposed here. $\endgroup$
    – augurar
    Jun 1, 2015 at 16:49
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There are a number of papers studying the ability of fungi to metabolize keratin, the primary structural component of nails (as well as skin and hair). Ants are also known to cultivate fungi for nutrients, so this may simply be a case where the ants are bringing food for their "farm animals."

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice explanation. Thanks :) Now, I will feed the hungry ants daily :D $\endgroup$ May 31, 2015 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ It's true that some fungi can break down keratin, and that some ants cultivate fungi, but these two facts do not imply that this is what is going on here. $\endgroup$
    – augurar
    Jun 1, 2015 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have any evidence at all to support this? I agree that it makes sense as a possibility but that's not enough for accepting it as fact. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Jun 2, 2015 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ @terdon I never claimed to represent it as fact. The OP didn't state what part of the world s/he was in, and it's impossible to identify the ants in the picture. I stated "this may simply be a case ...", not "this is exactly what's going on, and no other explanation is possible." The other answer is just as much of a guess as this one. One couldn't know for certain unless they were on location, excavated the anthole, and studied the whole situation in situ. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jun 2, 2015 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough, I only posted that comment because your answer has been accepted. It is a very intriguing suggestion if true but it's not really all that likely. I was just hoping you might have a reference to support it is all. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Jun 2, 2015 at 11:52

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