What do Ants Eat?

5/21/2015

Ants, like humans, have an incredibly diverse diet. And, like humans, ants are sophisticated and social animals who’ve devised any number of ingenious ways to locate, harvest, store and distribute their food.

Generally speaking, ants (of which there are nearly 12,000 known varieties) can be classified as omnivores. In fact, some of the most persistent and harmful of all ants, such as fire ants, are among the least specialized eaters. That said, most individual species of ant tend to prefer one kind of food over others, and to the extent that some ants can be identified by their feeding habits.

Some ant species are predatory, killing and eating other insects—including other species of ants—and even small animals. Some ants are, like vultures and hyenas, carrion-eaters: They prefer dead or decaying sources of protein. And some ants might even be called agriculturalists. The leaf cutter ant actually cultivates a fungus by creating “farms” from the semi-digested plant material they collect. Dairying ants will literally keep aphids (tiny destructive insects that feed on plant sap) as cattle, protecting them from other insect predators and “milking” them for a sugary substance they produce known as honeydew. 

However, whether finicky or easy to please, meat eater or vegetarian, hankering for the sweet or with a taste for the salty, almost all ants are foragers. Worker ants branch out from the nest with the aim of identifying a food source. As soon as they discover something to their liking, these workers return to the nest, leaving a chemical trail for other worker ants to pick up. These chemicals, known as pheromones, are unique to the ants in a specific colony and also serve to mark ant territory.

Once the trail has been established, worker ants circulate in shifts: setting out for the food source, retrieving food and returning to the nest with food while laying down a fresh trail of pheromones for the next shift. This feeding behavior helps to explain why ants often appear to be marching in long columns. 

Because ants are so opportunistic, stray food in your home can become an invitation for these pests. Keep fruits and vegetables refrigerated whenever possible, and beware of crumbs and food waste accumulating in areas of your kitchen that may be situated near doors, windows or cracks in your floors and walls. Spills can also attract ants and should be cleaned up before they have a chance to set into a sticky mess.

While baits and bait traps (food containing pesticides) can be effective in controlling these unwanted pests, such systems succeed best when they present foraging ants with their only available option. Overall, remember: If it is a food you like to eat, ants probably like it, too.

Contact Terminix® today to stop ants from feasting on what’s yours.