Yes, ants do eat worms. Ants are omnivorous and as such, will feed on pretty much anything they can get their mandibles on. Worms are no exception.
For the most part, ants simply eat dead worms they find lying around. However, there are some predatory ants such as the ever notorious red fire ants that don’t hesitate to attack worms and eat them alive.
Why Do Ants Eat Worms?
Ants are both omnivores and detritivores at the same time. This means that they are highly opportunistic eaters that eat whatever food is available from plants to living or dead animals. So to ants, worms particularly the dead ones, are simply food, and good ones at that.
Studies have found that worms are extremely nutritious. Earthworms for example, are a good source of protein which ants may use or break down into enzymes and hormones used for growth and development. They also provide a good amount of carbohydrates which ants need to fuel their bodily processes.
Furthermore, earthworms also provide vitamins, minerals, and certain amino acids which all help keep ants healthy.
All in all, worms are a very attractive food source to intelligent ants that have been shown to be quite conscious with their nutrition.
Which Ants Prey On Worms?
Apart from herbivorous ants, almost every ant will happily feast on a dead worm. That said, most of the same ants won’t actually bother worms when they’re alive and only a select number will actively prey on them. The most common of these predatory ants are as follows:
- Army Ants: Army ants are highly aggressive, nomadic, predatory ants from a number of different genera. They’re known for foraging in huge numbers and causing destruction to everything in their path. Armed with large-toothed jaws these ants attack and eat worms, insects, spiders, lizards, and even frogs.
Animal behaviorist Sean O’Donnell has seen these army ants in action when he witnessed hundreds of army ants suddenly emerging from leaf litter to pursue a 16-inch worm which they quickly caught up to and killed.
- Driver Ants: Among the group of army ants are those from the genus Dorylus called driver ants. As army ants themselves, these driver ants are also known to be aggressive and predatory ants that tear apart whatever prey they find.
They’re especially bad news for worms as some driver ant species live in the soil and forage underground. This makes it very likely for them to encounter and prey on different types of worms.
In fact, a study on the food preferences of driver ants in African habitats show that they primarily prey on insects, arachnids, and earthworms.
- Weaver Ants: Weaver ants are ants from the genus Oecophylla known primarily for their unique nest building behavior. While most ants nest in wood or soil, weaver ants construct nests by stitching leaves together with larval silk.
Apart from this unique behavior, weaver ants are also known to be highly territorial and aggressive predators.
In fact, due to their aggressive and predatory nature, certain species of weaver ants are used as biological control agents against pests including arthropods and annelids like earthworms.
- Fire Ants: Fire ants are invasive ants from genus Solenopsis. They are highly aggressive omnivorous ants that get their name from their painful stings that inject paralyzing venom.
They typically target and prey on small animals such as worms, insects, and even small infant birds.
- Bigheaded Ants: Bigheaded ants are dimorphic ants from the genus Pheidole. They get their name from the disproportionately large heads of their soldiers which includes very large mandibles built for crushing food and prey.
Similar to fire ants, bigheaded ants are aggressive invasive ants that feed on soil invertebrates like insects and worms. Unlike the former however, they don’t sting and instead rely on their bites that dissect and tear their prey apart.
Now there are of course more species of ants that feed on worms. Some of them are even less aggressive than the ones listed. For example, carpenter ants aren’t necessarily known to be aggressive ants but are more notorious for infesting wood.
However, carpenter ants are known to frequent worm farms or compost pits in search of food and while there, they’ll feed on small insects, vegetable and fruit scraps, and sometimes live worms.
How Do These Ants Kill Worms?
Ants usually kill worms by first swarming them. Then, depending on the species, ants may either use their sharp, strong mandibles to pin and dismember or they can use the stingers on the end of their abdomens to inject paralyzing venom that’s especially useful for prey like worms which are bigger than ants.
Once the worm’s dead or at the very least immobilized, the ants then cut the worm into smaller, transportable pieces that they can easily bring back to their nests.
Are Ants Attracted to Worms or the Food They Eat?
Ants attracted to both worms and the food they eat. As mentioned, some predatory ants are attracted to worms themselves and will make a meal out of living worms.
For the most part however, ants are simply attracted to the food that worms eat. Like ants, worms are both omnivores and detritivores. This means that worms and ants pretty much share the same diet and are attracted to the same food sources. They both feed on plants, animals, and organic waste products.
How Can You Protect Worms from Predatory Ants?
As mentioned however, some of these ants attack and consume worms. Therefore, if you grow worms for vermicomposting, it’s imperative that you know how to keep your worms safe from these ants.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of methods you can use to keep ants away from worm compost and ultimately, protect your worms. These methods are as follows:
- Raise Moisture Level: While ants can be attracted to moisture, they can only tolerate so much. So one way to protect worms from ants is to chase them away by wetting your worm bed or compost and keeping them moist every now and then.
- Create a Moat: Ants aren’t the best swimmers. While some ants can, most ants can’t swim and just drown in water. Their tiny, hair-like legs make it hard for them to propel themselves when submerged.
Therefore, you can deny ants access by creating an island and surrounding your farm or bin with water. This effectively prevents ants from getting access to your worms as they likely cannot swim or cross the water to your worm island.
The only way for ants to access the worm compost bin or farm then is through the unlikely event that a fertilized queen happens to land in it and starts a new colony.
- Slippery Gel or Cream: Another method to keep ants from worms is to apply slippery or sticky gel and cream on the sides or legs of the farm or bin base. This prevents ants from being able to climb up as the cream or gel traps them or makes them slip off.
The downside to this method however, is that it can become quite a messy affair and it only works as a temporary measure.
- Diatomaceous Earth: Lastly, you may also use diatomaceous earth (DE). DE is a chalky powder made from diatom shells which are abrasive and harmful to ants. When ants come into contact with DE, the DE penetrates and absorbs moisture from their exoskeletons. Eventually, the DE will kill ants through dehydration.
One benefit of using DE is not only is it effective in dealing with ants but also with other pests. Just be sure to use food grade DE though as the pool grade ones usually contain chemicals that may also harm your worms.
Also, it’s best to use DE moderately as while they have been tested to be generally safe for worms, lack of comprehensive studies don’t guarantee safety with long term use. To be completely safe, you can opt to apply diatomaceous earth around the worm compost or farm instead of directly in it.
Do Worms Eat Ants?
Worms only eat ants when they’re dead. Worms typically eat dead and decaying matter such as rotten plants, manure, and decomposing animals. The only living organisms they feed on include microbes such as bacteria, protozoans, and fungi in soil.
Can Ants and Worms Live Together?
Ants and worms can technically live together, but they won’t exactly develop a harmonious relationship.
While we’ve established that some ants feed on worms, most ants don’t bother them and just let them be. However, even without predation, ants and worms may still end up as a detriment to each other as they compete for the same resources.
Summary: Do Ants Eat Worms?
To summarize, ants do eat worms. As omnivores and generally opportunistic eaters ants will kill and feed on small animals including worms and insects.
For example, predatory ants such as fire ants, army ants, and weaver ants have been shown to harm earthworms and other worms to feed on them.
That said, most ants just usually eat dead worms that they find when foraging.