Are Ants Pollinators?
Yes, ants are pollinators. While certainly not the best, ants do their part as pollen vectors. In fact, they’re known to pollinate certain plant species like Conospernum undulatum.
In this article we’ll learn more about ants as pollinators as we discuss the following:
- What are pollinators?
- Why are ants pollinators?
- Are ants good pollinators?
- Why ants are considered ineffective pollinators
What are Pollinators?
Pollinators are animals that help transfer pollen from male to female flowers. They enable fertilization that leads to the production of seed and fruit.
These animals include birds, bats, and insects like butterflies.
Why are Ants Pollinators?
Ants are pollinators because they help facilitate pollen transfer. Ants are frequent visitors of flowers for nectar and it’s common for pollen to attach to their bodies. They then transfer this pollen to other flowers that they visit while foraging.
Are Ants Good Pollinators?
Ants are often considered ineffective pollinators. However, they can work well with some inconspicuous low-growing plants.
For example, ants are quite effective in pollinating the plant Conospernum undulatum. Research has found that the germination rate of the plant after contact with ants was around 80%. They produced the same results as bees. 
Ants also regularly pollinate the plant Polygonum cascadence. These plants are well adapted for ant pollination. They’re low-growing, have easily accessible nectaries, and grow dense populations. 
Why Are Ants Ineffective Pollinators?
Ants are considered ineffective pollinators due to the following factors:
Ants are smaller than most pollinators. Because of this, lesser pollen can attach to their bodies. Their small size also makes it less likely for them to make contact with anthers and stigmas. Therefore, in some cases, they finish their floral visits becoming pollen vectors.
Pollinators are often hairy but ants have smooth bodies. It is then less likely for pollen to attach to ants as compared to other pollinators like bees.
Ant mouthparts aren’t the best for pollination. Preferred pollinators have proboscis or elongated mouthparts suitable for reaching nectar.
Ants however have mandibles designed to cut down and crush food. Their mouthparts are more likely to damage the reproductive organs of plants.
Worker ants don’t grow wings and are limited to crawling. This makes them less efficient than vectors capable of flight.
While ants are fast, it will take time for them to move from one flower to another. As such, it is more likely for ants to take nectar without cross-pollinating flowers.
Ants also tend to visit the same plant over and over. This further reduces their effectiveness when it comes to cross-pollination.
Ants secrete chemical antibiotics to defend against infections caused by pathogenic organisms. These same secretions disrupt pollen function. In some cases, they kill pollen grains upon contact. 
Ant-pollinated flowers often have adaptations that allow their pollen to survive these secretions.
Plants have developed defense mechanisms to prevent predators from damaging their reproductive organs. Some plants, for example, use extrafloral nectaries to prevent damage to their organs. However, this also reduces the opportunity for pollination. 
Relationship with Other Pollinators
Ants can sometimes harass and attack other pollinators. Research, for example, has shown that bumblebees avoid flowers that smell of ants. 
This leads to an overall decrease in floral visits from more efficient vectors.
Are Ants Bad For Plants?
Ants aren’t necessarily bad for plants. They don’t usually harm plants and they do in fact provide many benefits.
However, there are definitely ants that damage plants. They may also foster the growth of plant pests like aphids.
To learn more, see this article on the effects of ants on plants.
Do Ants Eat Flowers?
No, ants don’t eat flowers. They visit flowers for nectar, an important and nutritious food source for ants.
See this article to learn more about ants and flowers.
To summarize, ants are pollinators. Despite their inefficiencies, they still help pollinate inconspicuous, low-growing, and easily accessible plants. In fact, when it comes to these plants, ants are just as effective as bees.