What Eats Ants? Comprehensive List of Natural Predators
Ants have a good number of natural predators that eat them. Many organisms take advantage of their availability and rely on them for nutrition. These organisms include:
- Mammals such as anteaters, bears, orangutans, and humans
- Insects and other arthropods like spiders, flies, butterflies, and even ants themselves
- Birds including wrens and woodpeckers
- Amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, toads, and snakes
- Fishes particularly the archerfish
In this article, we’ll look at a comprehensive list of what eats ants.
Mammals That Eat Ants
The term anteater is a common name for the four mammal species of the suborder Vermilingua. As their name implies, their diet mostly consists of ants. They can attack up to hundreds of ant nests and eat thousands of ants when they hunt.
Anteaters are physically specialized to prey on ants. They have large claws that tear down ant mounds or nests. They also have elongated snouts and tongues covered with thousands of tiny hooks.
These hooks are called filiform papillae. They allow anteaters to lick up, hold, and eat multiple ants at once.
Aardvarks are nocturnal, burrowing mammals from Africa. They’re often referred to as anteaters due to their diet. Like anteaters, they can consume thousands of ants on any given day.
They forage and detect ants using both smell and hearing. They use their legs and claws to dig up nests and long sticky tongues to eat ants up.
Bears as large, strong, and sometimes scary animals. So it may come as a surprise that some bears rely on tiny ants for nutrition.
Black bears, for example, rely primarily on ants and their brood as their source of animal protein. They can sniff out the pheromones that ants produce to track them. They tear into logs and flip over rocks to ingest clumps of ants and ant brood with their long sticky tongues.
Sun bears pretty much do the same.
Echidnas are medium-sized, solitary, and quill-covered animals that resemble porcupines and hedgehogs. They’re usually brown or black in coloration and are among the rare mammals that lay eggs. They’re classified as myrmecophiles and are sometimes referred to as spiny anteaters.
Like anteaters, echidnas find ants by smell and vibrations. They also use their claws to tear down nests and long sticky tongues to eat ants up.
Believe it or not, humans actually eat ants. Certain groups and cultures consume ants as snacks, condiments, and as part of main dishes.
Some even say that ants taste good. They can taste as sweet as honey or smoky and bacon-like.
See this article to learn more about edible ants.
Orangutans are large, tree-dwelling mammals with distinctive red fur. They’re mostly known for eating lots of fruits including durians, lychees, and mangoes. Aside from these fruits, however, they also eat small invertebrates such as ants. 
Pangolins are scaly mammals often mistaken for reptiles. They’re sometimes referred to as scaled anteaters. Despite that, they’re not actually related to anteaters. That said, like with aardvarks and echidnas, the association does have merit.
Like anteaters, pangolins primarily eat ants and termites. They make use of their hearing and sense of smell to find ants. They then use their strong front legs and claws to flush them out.
From there they use their long tongues covered with sticky saliva to retrieve and pick up their prey. All in all, they can consume up to 200g of insects per day.
Insects and Arthropods that Eat Ants
Antlions are insects in the neuropteran family Myrmeleontidae. They’re named after the predatory nature of their larvae which prey on ants and other small insects.
These larvae create deep cone-shaped sand pits where they burrow and lurk for prey. These sand pits have steep slopes and loose walls, making them difficult to escape from. Any ants or insects that fall into the pit are usually good as dead.
Interestingly, antlions tend to become rather peaceful as they turn into adults. Some adult antlions stop feeding on small insects entirely and eat nectar instead.
Ants aren’t safe even from their own kind. Certain aggressive ants such as fire and army ants are known to attack and prey on smaller ant species.
Some ants are also cannibals and eat fellow ants from the same colony. For example, fire ant queens eat their diploid male larvae to lessen the cost of inbreeding. Wood ants are also known to exhibit cannibalistic necrophagy and eat their own dead.
See this article to learn more about cannibal ants.
Assassin bugs are any species of the Reduviidae family from the order Heteroptera. They’re characterized by the thin necklike structure that connects their head and body. 
These bugs range between 5 to 40 mm (0.2 to 1.6 inches) in size. They are typically brown or black, but may sometimes also be brightly colored.
They are also characterized by their curved segmented beaks. They use these beaks to pierce, inject paralyzing saliva, and suck out the fluids from their prey.
Some assassin bugs specialize in eating ants. For example, feather-legged bugs have a specialized outgrowth on their abdomens.
This outgrowth is called the trichome. It releases a paralyzing secretion that attracts ants. Any ant that licks this trichome becomes paralyzed and consumed.
There’s also the assassin bug Acanthaspis petax. This bug eats ants and creates and carries a pile of ant carcasses on their backs for camouflage.
Beetles are one of the most common insects in the world. They’re characterized by their modified forewings that have hardened into wing cases. They’re mostly herbivores but some species may also be omnivores and feed on insects such as ants.
In fact, some beetles have adaptations that allow them to easily prey on ants. Beetles called myrmecophiles, mimic ants to gain access to their nests. There they either consume ants or their resources.
Examples of these myrmecophiles include rove beetles which blend into army ant societies. These rove beetles mimic army ants physically and through smell. They even act like army ants and join them on their raids. 
Butterflies are yet another surprising predator of ants. After all, we know butterflies to be harmless animals. However, like antlions, that’s only true for adults. For some species, their larvae or caterpillars prey on insects such as ants.
For example, the large blue butterfly Phengaris arion is a known myrmecophile. They manipulate ants for care and protection and also feed on their brood.
Flies generally eat rotten or decaying matter and dead ants are no exception. That said, there are also some predatory flies.
One of these predators is the phorid fly which has a rather creepy way of preying on ants.
These flies seek out foraging ants and inject eggs into their heads. When these eggs hatch, the larvae start feeding on the ants from the inside by slurping on their body fluids. They continue to do so until they pupate and in many cases, cause the heads of their hosts to pop off.
Studies have also discovered that some adult phorid flies saw the heads of some ants for food. 
Ants and spiders can interchange their roles as predator and prey. Some spiders for example, such as lynx spiders and black widows, are known to feed on ants. Some salticids, of which ants are natural predators, can also flip the script and prey on ants instead.
Spiders also feature ant mimics that rely on ants for food or protection. One such mimic is the aggressive crab spider which loves to prey on weaver ants. 
These spiders camouflage themselves through the two dark spots on their abdomens. These spots resemble compound eyes. They also hold their front legs up to mimic antennae.
With the ants fooled these crab spiders bite down on their heads and immobilize them with poison.
Birds That Eat Ants
Birds are also natural predators of ants. In fact, there are multiple types of birds that feed on ants as a regular part of their diet. These birds include the following:
Antpittas are birds found in Central and South America. They are ground-dwelling birds with short wings and long legs. Antpittas feed on ants and other insects by foraging on the ground. They use their strong bills to probe through leaf litter and soil.
Brahminy kites are birds of prey found in Southeast Asia and Australia. They are known for their distinctive reddish-brown plumage and white head.
While they primarily feed on fish, Brahminy kites also sometimes eat ants. They swoop down to grab ants and other insects off the ground.
Flickers are a type of woodpecker found in North and Central America. Like other woodpeckers, they primarily feed on insects living inside trees. However, they will also feed on ants and other insects found on the ground.
Ravens are large, black birds found in many parts of the world. They are omnivorous and will eat a wide variety of food items, including insects such as ants. Ravens use their powerful beaks to dig out ants from the soil.
Robins are a group of thrushes found throughout the world. They typically feed on other insects but may occasionally include ants in their diet. They use their keen senses to hunt and forage for ants on the ground.
Sparrows are small birds found throughout the world. They mostly feed on the seeds of grains and weeds. That said, they are opportunistic eaters and will also eat insects and other food. They feed on ants and other food by foraging.
Wrens are a group of small, insectivorous birds found throughout the world. They eat a wide variety of insects like beetles and ants.
They forage on the ground and use their bills to probe through the soil and leaf litter to find prey.
Woodpeckers are arboreal birds found worldwide. Their diet consists primarily of insects like ants, termites, and beetles.
They hunt ants and other insects by using their beaks to break up tree bark.
Amphibians and Reptiles That Eat Ants
Blind snakes are small, burrowing snakes found in various parts of the world. They are named for their small eyes yet non-functional eyes.
Blind snakes are carnivorous and feed primarily on termite and ant larvae. They locate their prey using their keen sense of smell.
Horned lizards, also known as horned toads, are small, spiny lizards found in North and Central America. They are named for the horns on their heads, which they use as a defense mechanism against predators. Horned Lizards are carnivorous and feed primarily on ants.
In fact, horned lizards in the American West live almost entirely on a diet of harvester ants. These lizards eat them by the hundreds. They safely ingest them by incapacitating them with mucus before swallowing them whole. 
Narrow-mouthed toads are insect-eating amphibians found in various parts of the world. They are called “narrow-mouthed” because their mouths are small and pointed. These mouths allow them to catch small insects and other invertebrates with precision.
These toads eat different insects but their diet mainly consists of ants. They have been observed feeding right at the opening of anthills.
Pacman frogs are large, round frogs found in South America. They are named after the video game character because of their large, round mouths.
Pacman Frogs are carnivorous and feed on a variety of prey including ants and other insects. They have a voracious appetite and will eat anything that they can fit in their mouths. They use their strong sticky tongues to catch their prey.
Poison Dart Frogs
Poison dart frogs are brightly colored frogs found in Central and South America. They get their name from the toxic secretions that they use to defend against predators. These secretions are toxic to humans and other animals.
Poison dart frogs are carnivorous and feed on small insects like ants. In fact, these toxic frogs rely on the consumption of ants to produce their toxins.
Thread snakes are a group of small, slender snakes found in various parts of the world. They are among the smallest snakes in the world, with some species growing to just a few inches in length.
Thread snakes are burrowing snakes found in soil and underground habitats. Their diet consists primarily of ants and termites. They find ant nests by following their pheromone trails.
Fish That Eat Ants
Ants and other insects constitute a portion of a wild fish’s diet. Any ant that falls into water is fish food and there’s one fish that’s particularly adept at making them fall.
The archerfish is a unique fish that eats ants and other land-based prey. They accurately aim and spit jets of water that knock down their prey into the water. Depending on the size of the fish, these spits can range up to an astounding 3 meters or just about 10 feet.
Fungus That Eat Ants
If there’s anything that can rival phorid flies in terms of the creeps, it’s the Ophiocordyceps fungus. This fungus grows and develops by eating ants from within. As they grow, they create a network of filaments that eventually allow them to take control of the ant’s body.
They essentially turn ants into zombies.
See this article to learn more about zombie ants.
Summary: What Eats Ants?
To summarize, there are a variety of organisms that rely on ants for nutrition. These organisms not only include the obvious anteaters and antlions but even unusual or uncommon ones like fungi, humans, and many more.