Are Ants Dirty? Do They Carry Disease?
Ants are generally not dirty. In fact, they’re considered to be one of the cleanest insects. Cleanliness to them is a necessity and a matter of survival. As such, they regularly groom themselves and the other members of their colony.
This doesn’t mean, however, that ants are spotlessly clean. Like how we humans get dirty as we go through our day, ants also pick up dirt and germs as they forage. This is especially true since ants are decomposers. They frequently deal with dead, rotting matter and organic waste such as feces and urine.
In this article, we’ll learn more about ant cleanliness as we discuss the following:
- Why do ants clean themselves?
- How do ants clean themselves?
- Do ants carry disease?
Why Do Ants Clean Themselves?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that ants clean themselves to survive. To them, cleanliness is a matter of life and death.
For example, the antennae are very important sensory organs for ants. It is through them that they are able to sense, navigate, and communicate.
Dirty antennae will hinder their ability to function. They will be less effective with their day-to-day activities. They’ll have a more challenging time finding food and detecting signals like pheromones. Being unable to rely on their senses puts them in danger of predators and other factors. See this article to learn more about ant antennae.
Ants also clean themselves to keep their colonies healthy. Like we humans, ants get sick. They can come across pathogens like fungi and bacteria that cause disease. If ants fail to clean these pathogens, their entire colony may get wiped out.
How Do Ants Clean Themselves?
Ants clean themselves using physical and chemical tools.
Researchers have found that ants clean their antennae with their front legs. These front legs contain a claw-like that consists of different types of hairs. Each of these hairs is finely tuned to remove dirt and other particles. 
To clean their antennae, ants first use coarse bristles that remove the big particles. They then follow that with a finer brush that removes smaller ones through adhesion.
After the antennae, they then clean their front legs by pulling them through their mouths.
Aside from physical cleaning, ants also clean themselves using the chemicals they produce.
For example, they use their mouths to bathe themselves and each other with saliva. This saliva cleans and oils their bodies. It also removes foreign bodies such as fungal spores.
Lasius neglectus ants, for instance, lick fungus off their infected nestmates. This, of course, prevents the spread of disease. It also causes them to pick up slight infections that strengthen their immune system. 
Studies have also shown that ants clean themselves with formic acid. This formic is a poison that they produce and use for disinfection.
They apply formic acid to the surface of infected bodies and the mouths of grooming ants. In doing so, they inhibit fungal growth and decontaminate both groomer and groomed. 
Do Ants Carry Disease?
Despite their knack for cleaning, ants can’t be perfectly clean. Again, ants frequently get exposed to dirty things such as dead matter and organic waste. This may then result in them picking up germs which may cause a variety of diseases.
Microbiological analysis of ants has shown the presence of pathogens and fecal contaminants. These include yeasts, molds, E.coli, Shigella, and Salmonella. This means that ants can be vectors of foodborne illnesses.
Some ants are also considered disease vectors in medical or hospital environments. Pharoah ants, for example, are known vectors of Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Streptococcus bacteria. 
Ant Bites and Stings
Ant bites and stings are generally not associated with diseases. However, they can cause allergic reactions that may sometimes be fatal. Depending on severity symptoms can range from mild irritation to anaphylaxis. They can sometimes lead to shock and loss of life.
Can Ants Contaminate Food?
Yes, ants can contaminate food. Again, they may carry different germs that may cause foodborne illnesses. Any food that they come in contact with can be contaminated.
Can You Get Sick From Eating Ants?
While ants are considered edible, there are risks in eating them. Like contaminated food, eating them can expose you to different disease-causing pathogens.
They may also cause allergies due to the formic acid they produce.
How to Prevent an Ant Infestation
Given the dangers that ants present, it’s important to keep them in check. Here are a few tips to prevent an ant infestation:
- Keep Your House Clean: Clean up any spills and food crumbs in your house.
- Keep Your House Dry: Moisture can attract ants to your house. Make sure to keep your house dry by fixing leaks and improving ventilation.
- Don’t Leave Food in the Open: Make sure to store your food properly. Keep them in airtight containers if possible. If you have pets, make sure to clean their bowls after meals.
- Seal or Cover Your Garbage Cans: Prevent access to your garbage cans. Ants don’t mind eating food waste.
- Seal Entry Points: Seal any cracks and crevices that ants may use to enter your home.
Summary: Are Ants Dirty?
To summarize, no ants are usually not dirty. In fact, ants are considered to be one of the cleanest insects. They’re particular when it comes to cleanliness and clean themselves regularly. They use physical and chemical tools to remove dirt and pathogens from their bodies.
They can, however, get dirty from the things they get exposed to when foraging. These things may include animal carcasses, urine, and feces. Because of these, ants become vectors of disease-causing pathogens.