Yes, ants do have eyes. Most ant species have a pair of compound eyes with some also having one to three additional simple eyes called ocelli on the dorsal surface of their heads. There are also some ants, particularly those that are subterranean, which have no eyes at all.
In this article, we’ll discuss how ant eyes work and how ants use their eyes. We’ll also look in more detail into on their eyesight, and finally, determine if all ants can see.
How Do Ant Eyes Work?
As mentioned, ants may have two different types of eyes, compound eyes and ocelli, which allow them to see and process visual information. However, while part of one visual system, both these eyes have their respective forms and functions which allow them to detect different types of stimuli.
Compound eyes, for example, are made up of many closely-packed independent photoreception units called ommatidia. These ommatidia are the compound eyes’ structural and function units of vision which consist of a cornea, lens, and photoreceptor cells that focuses on and sees only one point of an image. The overall image perceived by an ant through their compound eyes is a mosaic-like combination of all inputs from these numerous ommatidia.
That said, despite the pixelated image rendered, compound eyes provide ants with a relatively large field of view and allow them to form images of their environment, efficiently detect motion from different directions, differentiate between light and dark, and in some cases differentiate color.
Ocelli on the other hand, consist of only a single corneal lens covering several dozens of rhabdom-like sensory rods. They’re simple photo-receptors which do not allow ants to discriminate between complex images of the environment but are instead used primarily for detecting light such as changes in the pattern of polarized skylight or some celestial cues.
How Do Ants Use Their Eyes?
Like us humans, ants use their eyes to detect visual stimuli. Their eyes contain photoreceptors which convert light into inputs which then get processed in the brain. From there ants are then able to extract color or motion information that allows them to paint a picture and get a better understanding of their environment. Then, through the information their eyes gather, they’re able to navigate, forage for food, and react to potential threats like predators.
Do Ants Have Good Eyesight?
Ants don’t necessarily have good eyesight. Their vision is severely limited by the number of their ommatidia. Due to their size, their compound eyes can only hold a small number of these important units of vision. Some ants, for example, have only six.
Generally, the smaller the ant, the lower the number of ommatidia, and since ants are only capable of producing images brought about by the combination of the inputs from each individual unit, the end result is a pixelated output that’s as if we’re watching a video in 144p quality.
Can All Ants See?
Not all ants can see. As mentioned, there are certain ant species, particularly in the subterranean ones, which are blind. One of such species is the Martialis heureka, a blind predatory ant that’s a descendant of one of the first ant lineages to evolve from over 120 million years ago.
A number of blind ants can also be found in army ants, a representative group of nomadic, tropical, and predatory ants notorious for the destruction of anything in its path, many of which are also subterranean.
These subterranean ants live underground where it’s dark and instead of vision, they rely primarily on their olfactory system and pheromones to navigate and communicate with each other.
Since their eyes are essentially useless underground, these ants have evolved to have severely reduced or even fully removed eyes so as not to bear the cost of growing and maintaining them.
Can Ants See Color?
Yes, ants see color. However, they’re sensitive to colors different from us humans. Instead of red, green, and blue, research has found that Australian bull ants are sensitive to blue, green, and UV. This allows them to have certain advantages at night or the dark where we humans are completely color blind.
Can Ants See In The Dark?
Yes, ants can see in the dark. In fact, some nocturnal ants can see in the dark quite effectively. Research has found that nocturnal ants have developed certain optical adaptations that allow them to see better in the dark as compared to their diurnal counterparts.
Comparing the eyes of the nocturnal ant species M. pyriformis and their diurnal relative M. croslandi, showed that the eyes of the former have larger facets and wider rhabdoms which result in a 27-fold increase in optical sensitivity and overall visual reliability in dim-light conditions.
Do Ants Have Ears?
Ants don’t have ears. To detect sound, they use their subgenual organ, a major type of chordotonal organ located below the knee in the tibia of all their legs, which picks up vibrations transmitted through solid objects.
Do Ants Have Teeth?
Ants have teeth called mandibular teeth attached to their mandibles, a pair of external appendages connected next to their mouths. The number of these teeth vary depending on the species, but modern ants tend to have at least two.
These teeth aid the mandibles in moving objects, processing food, and in attacking or defending themselves.
Summary: Do Ants Have Eyes?
While there are some ant species that may have no eyes, most have a functioning visual system composed of compound eyes and ocelli. These two eyes function differently by virtue of their structures but nonetheless work together to allow ants to see and process visual information.
Compound eyes allow ants to form images of their environment, detect motion, differentiate between light and dark, and differentiate color while simple eyes are used primarily for detecting light such as changes in the pattern of polarized skylight or some celestial cues