Ants find food by foraging. Ant colonies regularly send out worker ants to search and collect food in the wild.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into how ants find food by discussing the following:
- What is foraging?
- How do ants forage?
- How do ants sense or detect food?
- What food attracts ants?
We’ll also discuss if you should worry about ants entering your home and ways to prevent them from doing so.
What is Foraging?
Foraging is the act of searching for and gathering food from the wild. It’s an important behavior done by many animals to survive.
It includes different strategies including searching for edible plants or hunting for prey.
How Do Ants Forage?
Ants forage by sending out workers to scout for food. These workers travel relatively long distances to find food sources for the colony. For example, ants have been observed to travel as much as 1,200 meters (3937 ft) from their nests to forage. 
While foraging, the scouts deposit pheromones to leave a trail of their paths. When they find a food source, they go back to their nests to relay information to the colony. On the way back, they deposit more pheromones to reinforce the trail.
When they finally get home, they recruit other workers to help with collection. These workers then pick up on the pheromone trail and head to the food source in numbers. Scouts that pick up the trail also abandon their routes to help.
This is why ants walk in lines and why they seem to suddenly appear around food.
How Do Ants Carry Food Back to Their Nests?
Once the group arrives at the food source, they work together to break it apart into smaller pieces. They then use their mandibles to carry these pieces back to their nests.
They’ll follow the trail to go back and forth until they finish.
Most ants rely solely on pheromones to find their way. Wood ants however have developed an adaptation that ramps up foraging efficiency.
These ants have learned to memorize their routes. They use the pheromone trail on their initial trip as a way to learn the route. Along the way, they memorize and store images of the landscape which they then use for later trips.
This ultimately speeds up the process as they don’t have to constantly sniff out the path.
How Do Ants Sense or Detect Food?
Ants don’t forage without direction. Instead, they use their keen sense of smell to sniff out and detect food.
Ants have sensitive antennae that help them find food. Studies have found that these antennae have 400 distinct odorant receptors. That’s around four to five times more than most insects. 
With these receptors, ants are capable of chemosensing. This allows them to detect substances like sugar and other food.
How Far Can Ants Detect Food?
Ants can detect food from quite a considerable distance. Ants have been observed capable of detecting food from around 3 to 5 meters (10 – 16 ft) away.
What Food Attracts Ants?
Ants are attracted to all kinds of food. Generally omnivorous, ants feed on both plant and animal sources. These include other insects and sweet substances like honeydew and nectar.
Ants are also detritivores. Therefore, they’re also attracted to dead or rotting matter, and organic waste.
See this article to learn more about what ants eat.
Do Ants Enter Houses for Food?
It is common for ants to enter houses for food, especially during scarcity. They’ll usually come for spills or food waste in your trash. However, once inside they won’t hesitate to raid your food stores when available.
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. So while we humans don’t consider those as food, ants do and are thus attracted to them.
How to Prevent Ants from Finding Food in Your House?
An ant infestation can be a problem. Some ants can carry disease and contaminate your food. Therefore, it’s best to try and prevent them from coming into your house.
Here are a few tips you can follow:
- Keep Your House Clean: Clean up any spills and food crumbs in your house.
- Don’t Leave Food in the Open: Make sure to store your food properly. Keep them in airtight containers if possible. If you have pets, make sure to clean their bowls after meals.
- Seal or Cover Your Garbage Cans: Prevent access to your garbage cans. Ants don’t mind eating food waste.
- Seal Entry Points: Seal any cracks and crevices that ants may use to enter your home.
When Do Ants Forage?
Foraging schedules vary between ant species. Some ants forage during the day while others prefer to do so at night.
It also includes other factors like temperature. Ants may forego their usual schedule when it’s too hot or cold.
See this article to learn more about when ants are active.
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. They can also be attracted to salt, which they use to maintain water balance and nerve function.
Summary: How Do Ants Find Food?
To summarize, ants find food by sending out worker ants to forage. These worker ants travel long distances and use their sense of smell to locate food sources.