Ants find food by foraging. To keep their food stores filled, colonies send out worker ants, which travel long distances, to scout and forage for food. From there, these worker ants combine their keen senses alongside efficient communication to find food and lead other workers of the colony towards it.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into how ants find food by looking into their keen senses as well as how they send information or communicate to other members of the colony.
Ants Have A Keen Sense Of Smell
While ants most definitely make use of different senses such as touch and sight to find food, none of those two contribute as much as their sense of smell. They have an amazing sense of smell, much more so than other insects and probably even ours.
Studies have found that ants have 400 distinct odorant receptors that allow them to detect different odors. That’s around four to five times more than most insects. They’ve also been shown to be highly receptive to chemical changes and are capable of responding to and differentiating subtle hydrocarbon odors which us humans cannot perceive.
What’s more interesting though is that ants don’t actually have noses. Instead, they smell through their highly sensitive antennae, the center of their olfactory system. It is through these antennae that they’re capable of chemosense or the ability to detect chemical substances in their environment. It’s the same ability they use to perceive the aforementioned hydrocarbons. But not only that, they also use it to detect sugar or other foods as well as communicate with each other.
Ants Use Pheromones As Breadcrumbs For Other Workers
Despite their individual capabilities, that is their keen senses and their renowned super strength, ants are at the end of the day social insects and rely on teamwork. So while a worker ant may have the ability to carry a large chunk of food to the nest on its own, and in that way be possibly hailed as a hero, it will most likely alert the colony and call for help instead.
But the question is, how does it do so?
Well, the secret lies with pheromones, chemical scents or hormones that ants use to communicate with each other. When foraging, worker ants use these pheromones as breadcrumbs, leaving behind a trail of their paths. Once an ant finds food, it then follows the same path back to the nest while laying more pheromones behind, effectively reinforcing the trail.
When it gets home, other workers will be able detect the pheromones through their keen sense of smell. It then prompts them to abandon their own routes and follow the one that leads to the discovered food. This is why you often see ants walking in lines and also explains why ants may seem to just suddenly appear around food.
Ramping Up Efficiency
While making use of pheromones as breadcrumbs does indeed work, wood ants have developed an adaptation that further ramps up efficiency. To speed up the entire foraging process, these wood ants not only rely on pheromones, but they also use landmarks in combination with their memories of the landscape to find their way to the food source.
They treat the initial trip, of which they solely follow the pheromone trail, as a way to learn the route. As they make their way to the food, they memorize and store images of the landscape which they then use for later trips.
How Do Ants Carry Food Back To Their Nests?
Once the group arrives at the food source, they surround the food and start working in tandem, pulling on the food with their mandibles to break it apart into smaller manageable pieces. Once broken down, they use their mandibles and super strength to carry these pieces of food back to their nests.
What Attracts Ants To Food?
There are many things that may attract ants to food, but it’s mostly because of what they need to survive. For example, ants are attracted to sweets because of sugar which they use for energy. Other ants may be attracted to food for sodium, which they use to maintain water balance and nerve function.
Why Are There Ants Even If There’s No Food?
It’s not only food that ants are attracted to. They’re also attracted to moisture or water sources which they also need to survive. There’s also the fact that ants feed on pretty much anything, including waste such as urine or feces. So while we humans don’t consider those as food, ants do and are thus attracted to them.
How Do Ants Show Up Out Of Nowhere?
They don’t. As mentioned, ants have efficient ways of communicating with each other. So when an ant stumbles upon food, for example, it makes its way back to the colony to alert other ants of its discovery. From there, they send out more workers to follow the same trail and eventually show up to the spot in numbers.
Summary: How Do Ants Find Food?
Ants find food by sending out worker ants to forage around the vicinity of their nests. From there, these worker ants use their amazing sense of smell to detect and locate food sources.
They then make use of pheromones, to create a trail and relay information about these food sources to other members of the colony. Once other workers pick up on these pheromones, they abandon their own trails and head straight to the food source where they work together to break down the food into manageable pieces that they can carry.