I left some toenail clippings in the sink, and when I got home later, there was a stream of ants trying to carry them off. Usually they go for things like Popsicle sticks and honey. Why would they possibly want toenail clippings, and what were they planning on doing with them?
-- Jeremy Barwick, San Diego
What a charming picture you paint of hygiene in the Barwick household. I'd say you're lucky the ants stopped by to help clean up. But since you've asked, we dialed up the UCSD Cooperative Extension and spoke with director Vincent Lazaneo, who gave us a peek into the minds of your ants. It's likely yours are the ubiquitous Argentine ants-- about an eighth of an inch long and black. Usually they'll head for the Popsicle sticks, but all ants need sugar, grease, water, and protein to keep on truckin'. It's likely they were out foraging for whatever was lying around, and they just happened on your stash of toenails. They didn't already have toenails on the shopping list. Nails are keratin, a protein. Just the thing for chewing up and feeding to ant larvae. (Adults only eat liquids.) If you'd had a few dead animals around your house or a pile of flies, they would have liked that too.