This patient is likely to have accidentally swallowed the ant, which was subsequently to be found intact in the colon, its polysaccharide armor resistant to the full complement of our digestive armamentarium. Ants and their larvae, however, are eaten intentionally in many parts of the world and are even considered in some places as an insect, caviar-like delicacy. Depending on geographic location, ants are consumed as a condiment, toasted, eaten alive, served in salad or as an (ant) egg salad, and even downed as an acidic drink. Ants attack and defend themselves by biting and, in many species, by stinging, often injecting or spraying chemicals like formic acid, from which their family name, Formicidae, is derived. I find it of interest, therefore, that ant acid, when 2 words, is a bad thing for humans but, when 1 word, is a good thing, helping to relieve us from peptic distress. As the authors suggest, this ant was unlucky, and his or her misfortune possibly started upon encounter with our first line of defense against our daily invaders, hydrochloric acid. We never will know whether our hydrochloric acid did any significant damage to the ant's chitinous exoskeleton, but like the ant, this too is food for thought.
Lawrence J. Brandt, MD
Associate Editor for Focal Points