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How do ants find food? Scout Ants & Pheromones

When ants locate food, they emit an invisible substance called “trail pheromone” as they bring it back to the colony. 

This route connects the nest to the food supply. 

The path is subsequently followed by more worker ants, who arrive at the meal. On the way back, each worker will create a pheromone trail of their own, strengthening the scent. 

The use of pheromones is how ants find food.

How Do Ants Find Food?

Ants find food by exploring random areas. A nest patroller ant, or scout ant, leaves the colony and begins exploring her surroundings in search of a new source of food. 

When they find something that might be edible (such as a dead insect) they will create a pheromone trail from the food source to the nest to alert other worker ants about its location.

Ants have four to five times as many olfactory sensors [1] on their antennae as most other insects. This extraordinary sense of smell aids ants in their search for food.

When it comes to finding and gathering food, ants are highly effective. Besides using pheromones to tell other ants where food is, ants will also be able to smell what’s been found based on what other ants bring back to the colony.

Read more: Ant pheromones and how they work

scout ants looking for food

Scout Ants and Locating Food

Chemosense is used by ants, like other insects, to detect sugar and other food. They are capable of detecting chemical compounds in their surroundings. When these compounds are present (even in low quantities), the olfactory receptors — tiny bristles on the insect’s body — perceive them as scents. 

Ants can identify and detect the presence of attractant molecules such as those present in sugar and sweets.

Using Pheromones to Create A Trail

Ants utilize pheromones in a variety of ways, including emitting ‘danger’ pheromones upon death to warn neighboring ants or creating chemical trails from their colony to potential food sources [2].

Other ants in the colony may detect these pheromones with their antennae and react appropriately.

Also read: How do ants communicate?

ants creating a trail

Worker Ants Collect the Food

Ants utilize their strong mandibles to sever items they wish to consume. Ants often discover things to consume that are considerably bigger than themselves. Worker ants will transport most of the food back to the nests for the rest of the colony to consume.

Worker ants (sterile, wingless females) typically find food for their colony’s queen (to make sure she can lay eggs), reproductive males, and younglings. 

worker ant collecting food

When additional worker ants find the pheromone track, they may forsake their own food hunt. This is because the ants know that following the pheromone trail will lead them directly to a food source.

How Do Ants Carry Food Back to the Colony

Ants have incredible strength, strong mandibles, and amazing neck strength. This all helps them carry the food, that they locate.

Ants use all of these attributes to their advantage when carrying food back to the colony. The more they can carry, the less they have to walk. If the food is too big, the ants will use their mandibles to split it up into smaller pieces.

Since scout ants will let worker ants know, where they can find food, the ants can move food fast. The ants will collaborate and communicate when gathering food [3], which again helps them effectively gather the much-needed protein or carbs.

What Do Ants Eat?

Ants will consume a variety of food, depending on the species.

Ants forage outside and are known to eat insects (dead or alive), pet food, honeydew secreted by aphids and scale insects, fruit juice from rotten fruits, syrup from honeycombs in beehives or houses occupied by humans.

Carpenter ants also have been found with meats, jelly beans, sugar cubes, and other goodies inside their nests.

Also read: What do ants eat?

Ants are very good at searching for food. As said, ants have four to five times the number of olfactory sensors on their antennae as most other insects, which may account for how they always seem to know where to find something delicious.

ants eating a dead insect

What Food Attracts Ants?

Ants are attracted to a wide variety of food. When an ant is in search of food, it will use a chemosensor to detect sugar and other attractant molecules that it can locate.

The process of locating food begins with detection by the olfactory receptors — tiny bristles on its body — when these compounds are present (even in low quantities). Ants may identify or detect the presence of such molecules as those present in sugar and sweets using their antennae which have many more sensors than most insects do.

Read more: What attracts ants?

pharaoh ant (1)

What Do Ants Do With the Food They Collect?

When ants find food, they will break it down into smaller pieces, or extract the amount that they can carry by themselves. Afterward, they will bring it back to the colony to share it with their fellow worker ants. 

How to Prevent Ants From Finding Food in My House?

Pesticides are one way to control ants, but they can be harmful to children and pets. There are also many ant traps that you may place in your home or business premises by following the instructions on the packaging exactly as directed.

Instead of using pesticides or traps, some people choose to use bait stations. These stations involve placing small amounts of sugary substances within a plastic container with a non-toxic adhesive lid. The container should be inaccessible to other animals (such as birds). 

The ants will eventually find their way into this trap and consume enough food until they die from overindulgence. 

You should have at least two bait stations per floor of your house, if possible more so that there is always an active station for worker ants to explore while the others are being filled with ants.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Fast Can Ants Find Food?

Scout ants are the first to find food. They can do so within minutes and then signal other worker ants that food is somewhere in a certain direction by laying pheromones on their antennae or feet, which allows them to follow this trail back to the source of where they found it. 

Do Ants Store Food for Winter?

If ants store food for the winter, they will eat it now. They do not have any type of storage system to save their food in case there is a shortage or some other contingency that would lower the availability of different types of foods during certain periods such as winter.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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