Ants are detritivores and omnivorous insects that eat a wide variety of foods including plants, animals, fungi, and dead or rotting material. Some common types of food that ants may feed on include seeds, nectar, sap, honeydew, and meat.
In this article we’ll further discuss the different types of food that ants eat, what they don’t eat, how they find food, and finally we’ll also look into what food some common ant species consume.
What Do Ants Eat?
Ants eat just about anything. Again, as omnivores they eat from plants, animals, and other food sources including:
- Sugar. It is pretty much common knowledge that ants love to eat sweets or sugary food. But it’s not so much the sweet taste that they like, but more so that these sweets are essential to their survival. Sugary food such as bread, fruits, nectar, honeydew, and honey, provide ants with carbohydrates which they in turn convert to energy that fuels their bodily processes.
- Seeds. Ants are also known to eat seeds. Harvester ants, for example, eat a wide variety of seeds from different plant species. They’re specialized to eat the starch of seeds and pretty much any seed they can break open, they consume. On the other hand, some ants only eat the lipid and protein-rich elaiosomes that some seeds develop. Unlike harvester ants, these ants don’t consume the whole seed and therefore, help greatly with seed dispersal.
- Meat. Ants are predators. They primarily prey on and eat other insects and arthropods including other ants, bees, termites, cockroaches, and worms. There are also some ants that even eat reptiles, and small mammals such as birds. Simply put, ants aren’t shy about eating animal flesh.
- Other Organic Matter. Ants may also eat food that we humans would consider gross. As detritivores, they eat dead or even rotting animals and also other organic matter such as poop, blood, and even urine.
- Fungi. Apart from plant and animal matter, ants have also been shown to eat fungi. Leafcutter ants for example, are known to farm and grow fungi for food. They use the leaves they collect to cultivate fungi and protect them from molds and other pests until they grow the fat and protein rich specialized organs called gongylidia which the ants eventually eat.
What Don’t Ants Eat?
While ants may be opportunistic eaters, there are still some things that they don’t eat. These include the following:
- Wood. Despite the fact that some ants known as wood-infesting ants can cause serious damage to wooden structures or property much like termites, unlike the latter, these ants don’t eat wood. They simply chew through them and discard them as they excavate and build their nests.
- Leaves. It is often believed that ants eat leaves given the fact that some ants, like the aforementioned leafcutters, cut them down and take them to their nests. As mentioned however, these leafcutters don’t actually eat the leaves but use them as fertilizer to cultivate fungi which they eat.
- Flowers. Similar to leaves, ants also seem like they eat flowers since they frequent them and may sometimes chew on their parts. However, also don’t eat them at all and may just sometimes damage them as they try to obtain nectar.
- Spices. Ants aren’t too fond of spices. In fact, spices such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, and cinnamon are sometimes used to deter ants due to their strong and as far as ants are concerned, disruptive scent.
How Do Ants Find Food?
Ants find food by foraging. As part of their routine, colonies regularly send worker ants out of their nests to try and locate food. When out and about, these workers use their highly sensitive antennae to sniff out and detect food sources through chemoreception.
In the event that they do find food, they head back to their nests while creating a trail of pheromones back to the food source. When the other workers of the colony pick up on this trail, they follow it and head to the food source where they then work together to break down the food to carry it back to their nests.
What Do Different Types of Ants Eat?
There are more than 10,000 species of ants and each of them may have varying food preferences. For example, here are what the different types of common ants eat:
- Carpenter Ants. Carpenter ants are one of the aforementioned wood-infesting ants that don’t actually eat wood. Instead, carpenter ants eat what many other omnivorous ants eat. They feed on nectar, sap, honeydew, and meat from other insects and invertebrates.
- Leafcutter Ants. Leafcutter ants are rather unusual as they eat fungi. Again, these leafcutters protect and cultivate fungi to feed on the fat and protein rich gongylidia which the latter produce. Aside from fungi, they also plant sap.
- Sugar Ants. Sugar ants, as their name implies, are especially fond of sweets. They primarily eat nectar and honeydew, but may also eat small invertebrates. They’ve also been found to consume urine and in fact, have been observed to sometimes prefer urine over the very thing they’re named after.
- Crazy Ants. Crazy ants are among your typical omnivorous ants. They eat plant material including seeds, nectar, and fruits while at the same time they also eat meat such as dead or living insects.
- Fire Ants. As omnivores, fire ants also feed on animal and plant sources. That said, they do prefer high-protein food and therefore prey on a number of different animals. Like many other ants, they eat other insects and invertebrates such as worms and spiders. As especially aggressive ants however, they may also feed on bigger prey including turtles, lizards, and small birds.
- Argentine Ants. Similar to crazy ants, argentine ants are also your typical omnivores. They consume pretty much whatever is available including sweets and meat.
- Thief Ants. Thief ants are also called grease ants for their tendency to eat grease. They also prefer to eat other high-protein food such as cheese and meat.
- Odorous House Ants. Like sugar ants, odorous house ants are particularly fond of sweets. They love to eat honeydew, nectar, and any other sugary substances that they find.
Summary: What Do Ants Eat?
To summarize, ants eat a lot of things. Generally omnivores, ants eat from plants, animals, and other food sources. For example, ants may feed on nectar, honeydew, sap, insects, other invertebrates, and even fungi. Aside from those, they may also feed on rotting or dead matter including dead animals, blood, and even feces.
Despite being opportunistic eaters, however, there are some things that they don’t eat, and those include spices, wood, leaves, and flowers.