Yes, ants can swim. Some ants are strong enough to swim and navigate through water. However, ants aren’t generally adapted enough to be effective swimmers. In fact, most ants will struggle to move in water due to their hair-thin legs.
In this article, we’ll learn more about the swimming ability of ants as we discuss the following:
- How ants swim
- If all ants can swim
- Which ants can swim
- What happens to ants in water
- How ants survive in water
- If there are underwater ants
How Do Ants Swim?
Ants swim by paddling with their limbs. They use their forelegs to propel themselves and their hind legs as rudders to steer. Their middle pair of legs perform both functions. Simply put, the forelegs drive most of the movement while the rest control direction. 
Can All Ants Swim?
No, not all ants can swim. In fact, many ants will struggle to achieve any kind of locomotion in water. Their bodies simply aren’t built for it. They have hair-thin legs that are generally too weak for swimming.
As such, only a few ants can swim. These ants are usually larger ones with longer and stronger forelegs.
Which Ants Can Swim?
Ants that can swim include the following:
Diving ants refer to the ant species Camponotus schmitzi. They’re carpenter ants native to Borneo and are otherwise known as pitcher-plant ants. They get their name from their habit of diving into the digestive fluids of pitcher plants. There they swim to the bottom to steal prey trapped by the plant.
Diving ants are a remarkable exception among ants. They can freely dive in and out of fluids as if they were sprinting on solid ground. This is unlike other ants that can’t even break through the surface of water.
Apart from diving ants, other carpenter ant species are also strong swimmers. They may not be the fastest, but they’re relatively better swimmers than most. This is because they’re typically larger and stronger than other ants.
See this article to learn more about carpenter ants.
Odontomachus bauri is a species of trap-jaw ant found in the tropical regions of America. They’re dark-brown leaf-litter ants known to forage individually.
These ants are classified as strong swimmers relative to other tropical canopy ants. They’re among the fastest and can swim at an average speed of 10 cm per second. 
Gigantiops destructor is the sole member of the Gigantiops genus. They’re found in South America and are known for their large eyes and jumping ability.
Like Odontomachus bauri, Gigantiops destructor ants are strong swimmers among tropical canopy ants. In fact, they’re even faster than the latter, capable of swimming just about 11 cm per second.
What Happens To Ants In Water? Do They Drown?
The water is not a place an ant wants to be in. Generally speaking, if an ant falls into water, they are as good as dead. Again, most ants can’t swim and therefore, can’t escape water. Eventually, they drown or end up as prey to aquatic predators.
The only saving grace for ants is that they can stay afloat and keep their spiracles dry. As long as their spiracles don’t get clogged, they can keep breathing and survive. They just then have hope for a miracle that they somehow make it out.
How Do Other Ants Survive in Water?
Not all non-swimmers are helpless against water. Some ants have developed adaptations that allow them to survive the water despite their lack of swimming ability. These adaptations include the following:
Fire ants have an ingenious strategy to survive in water. They create rafts with their bodies. These rafts are floating structures that rarely sink. They allow fire ants to stay afloat until either the water subsides or they find a way to escape. 
During floods, fire ants link their bodies together using their legs and mandibles. With their bodies locked, they create a platform that supports the weight of the whole colony.
These rafts also attract and hold a layer of air called the plastron layer. This plastron layer enhances buoyancy and allows the ants at the bottom of the raft to breathe. Basically, every ant gets to survive.
Walking On Water
Amazingly, some ants can walk on water. The ant species F. subsericea for example, exhibits dual swimming behavior. Some of their workers swim, while others can support their bodies above the surface and walk. 
Are There Underwater Ants?
There are no underwater or aquatic ants. No ant is specialized to permanently live underwater. There is, however, the ant species Polyrhachis sokolova. These ants nest in mangrove mud where they spend a good amount of time submerged in water. To survive, they build and hide in air pockets while waiting for the water to subside. 
Can Ants Swim In Soapy Water?
No, ants can’t swim in soapy water. Soap is a surfactant that reduces surface tension. It makes it harder for ants to float and they’ll have a higher tendency to drown.
How Do Ants Float On Water?
Ants can float on water due to their hydrophobic exoskeletons. This traps a plastron layer around their bodies which decreases their densities.
Can Ants Breathe Underwater?
Ants can’t breathe underwater. Water clogs their spiracles and prevents the entry of oxygen into their bodies.
When submerged underwater, ants have to close their spiracles and hold their breath. They will need to live off the oxygen already in their bodies until they can escape.
Can Ants Drown?
Yes, ants can drown. Despite being quite the survivors, ants can’t sustain being submerged underwater. They will need to make it out of the water to reopen their respiratory system. Otherwise, they will eventually run out of oxygen and drown.
Summary: Can Ants Swim?
To summarize, some ants can swim. Large ants with strong forelegs are perfectly capable of swimming. Most ants, however, will struggle to produce any type of movement with water. They simply aren’t adapted well enough to be efficient and effective swimmers.