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Ants Remarkable Climbing Ability: What Can They Climb?

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Ants are amazing climbers. If you’ve ever seen ants crawling up a wall, you’ve witnessed ants’ ability to cling to and climb almost anything.

Ants have three main aids for climbing: 

  • Pretarsal adhesive pads
  • Claws
  • Hairs on their feet

These three methods allow them to hang from just about any surface imaginable – even the ceiling. 

In this article, we will discuss what surfaces ants can climb as well as what they can’t climb.

How Do Ants Climb on Walls & Ceilings?

First of all, ants can stick to almost any surface due to the pretarsal adhesive pads on their feet. These tiny pads cling onto smooth surfaces like glass or tile with ease.

They also use a type of claws to better grip steeper slopes and when crawling up walls or ceilings.

Lastly, ants also have small hairs on their feet. These increase friction, which helps them stick to surfaces, as well as avoid sliding down.

Read more about ant anatomy.

Pretarsal Adhesive Pads

The pretarsus adheres through small disk-shaped setae which interlock with surfaces like micro-suction cups. This allows ants to attach themselves to surfaces easily. [1]

They can even carry objects many times heavier than themselves by attaching these items to the underside of their abdomen and dragging it around.

ant-thorax-and-abdomen

Ants Have Claws

Claws are an anatomical structure found at the end of a toe or limb of certain animals. Ants have claws on the back of their feet that help them grip onto and dig into surfaces. As a result, they can climb efficiently and effortlessly. 

These claws are big, compared to the small size of ants. This helps them climb without much effort.

queen ant front face with wings

Hairs on Their Feet

Ants have tiny hairs on their feet, which help them stay put together with their adhesive pads.

These little hairs will generate friction, stopping them from falling. You can think of this like a backup, a hand break you might call it.

On smooth surfaces, the hairs will create friction when pushed in the opposite direction of their natural direction. In other words, if an ant starts sliding, the hairs will help stop the sliding, to keep them moving upwards.

carpenter ant crawling on wooden wall

What Can Ants Climb?

Ants can climb any solid substance or surface, except for polished glass, Fluon covered surfaces, Teflon-coated surfaces, or anything covered in slippery liquids.

In short, if you haven’t processed the surface with anything that can cause slippage, ants can climb up on it.

Ants have evolved their climbing abilities over thousands of years. They rely on climbing to get to sources of food and water, which makes it an essential survival skill.

Walls

Ants use their climbing arsenal to pull themselves up onto vertical walls if needed. Since walls are rarely completely smooth, there’s plenty of little imperfections the ants can grip onto with their claws.

If you see ants climbing across your walls, it’s most likely because they’re trying to get to food. 

In a few cases, they’ve built a nest in your walls, which they’re trying to get back to.

Also read: What to do if you have ants in the walls

black ant crawling on the wall

Ceilings

Ants have no problem crawling across your ceiling. They’ll use their adhesive pads to make sure they’re sucked onto the ceiling – this prevents them from falling when upside down.

If you notice ants on your ceilings, they might have built a nest in your attic or roof. In this case, follow them with your eyes to locate where they’re going.

ant crawling on the wall

Plastic

Ants can climb plastic. Even though plastic is very smooth, which makes it somewhat difficult for the ant’s claws to get a grip, they’ll climb over the obstacle.

When ants are climbing over smooth surfaces, such as plastic or glass, they rely on their adhesive suction pads and many fine hairs on their feet. When combined, the ants have plenty of traction to move onwards and upwards.

To avoid this, you can apply a slippery substance, such as oil.

Wood

Ants can easily climb over wood. Many ants nest in trees (such as the carpenter ant or velvety tree ant). Wood is a softer material, which makes it easy for ants to use their claws. This makes it very easy for ants to climb.

fire ants crawling on the tree

Almost Any Solid Substance

In short, ants can climb any solid substance because the claws and pads on their feet can grip onto surfaces very well. 

The only reason ants wouldn’t be able to do this is if the surface were to be covered in some slippery substance.

What Can’t Ants Climb?

There are some things ants can’t climb. These include:

  • Polished glass surfaces
  • Fluon surfaces
  • Teflon coated surfaces
  • Aluminum surfaces
  • Surfaces applied with slippery substances

Polished Glass Surfaces

Polished glass poses a problem for ants. Since glass is completely smooth, they won’t be able to use their claws. 

Usually, they would use their adhesive pads for suction, as well as their fine climbing hairs for friction, but since the glass is polished, these methods won’t work, resulting in the ant falling.

glass window

Fluon Surfaces

The surfaces are treated with Fluon, a liquid that only adheres to the surface when pressure is applied. In other words, Fluon is anti-adhesive and slippery, which counteracts ants’ pretarsal adhesive pads.

This makes it difficult for ants to climb on anything coated in this material because they have no friction or suction.

Applying Fluon can prevent ants from crawling on a surface for months. It’s also non-toxic, so it’s safe to use.

Teflon Coated Surfaces

Teflon is a non-stick and slippery material. It’s commonly used for pans and pots to avoid food from sticking to the bottom.

Another way to use Teflon is to avoid ants from crawling on something.

If you have potted plants that keep being infested by ants, you can use a clean and non-abraded Teflon coat to cause the ants to slide when trying to climb your pots.

Simply buy some Teflon spray and apply it to surfaces where you’d like to prevent ants.

Teflon Coated Surfaces

Aluminum Surfaces

Ants are unable to climb aluminum surfaces. This is because the surface of aluminum, which has a non-stick property due to an oxide layer, causes them to slide because they can’t use their pads or hairs.

Aluminum is also smooth, which prevents ants from using their claws.

Surfaces Applied With Slippery Substances

Ants can’t climb surfaces that have been applied with slippery substances like oil-based products. 

This is because ants rely on the shape of their pretarsal adhesive pads and claws to provide them traction when climbing, which they can’t on slippery surfaces [2]

Can Ants Walk on Water?

Yes, some ants can indeed walk on water. Due to their small size and weight, they can move on water as long as they move fast enough, and as long as the water is still.

When heavy rainfall occurs, the water may be too active for ants to navigate it. In these cases, ants can make a living raft by holding on to each other.

ant drinking

The Science Behind Walking on Water (Surface Tension)

Surface tension is defined as: “The property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of its molecules.” [3]

In other words, water molecules pull together by nature, and as long as the external force applied to water doesn’t exceed the force of the pull between molecules, the surface of the water will stay intact.

Since ants are very small and very light, they are able to walk on water – as long as they place all 6 feet on the water carefully.

Will Ants Die From Falling After a Climb?

No, ants won’t die from the impact of a fall. This is because their terminal velocity (the maximum speed they reach when falling), isn’t fast enough to kill ants on impact with the ground.

Terminal velocity is calculated based on the mass of the falling object, the shape of the object, gravity, density of the fluid the object is falling through, and the projected area of the object.

The two main factors here are mass and shape.

Ants are very small, very light, and not very aerodynamic. This all adds up to a slow terminal velocity, which results in them being able to survive any fall.

An article you may also consider: Do Ants Take Fall Damage?

ant falls on the ground

Conclusion

Ants are good climbers for what they can climb. Some examples include glass, walls, vertical surfaces (trees), benches, and much more!

These insects can also walk upside down on ceilings or other flat things that stick up like tree branches. Since ants live under the ground in their colonies, climbing is one of their most important survival skills to keep them safe from predators above the ground.

Without this amazing ability, these little critters wouldn’t survive very long!

They need to be able to escape or move food sources if needed which requires climbing capabilities, especially when living underground where it’s dark and hard to see what obstacles may come about crawling around there.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Ants Walk Upside Down?

Ants are able to walk upside down because of what’s called pretarsal adhesive pads. These sticky “gloves” help them gain a strong grip on the surface they’re walking on. Ants also have claws and hairs that provide traction for their feet when climbing objects like glass or smooth leaves.

Is There Any Solid Substance Ants Can’t Crawl On?

No, ants can crawl on any solid substance or surface, as long as nothing else has been applied to it. They use their climbing tools (pads, claws, and hairs) to stick to surfaces.

Can Ants Climb Walls?

Ants are able to climb almost any vertical surface. The fine hairs on the underside of their bodies allow them to adhere tightly to what they’re climbing, and their feet can grip onto surfaces with great force

Can Ants Climb Ceilings?

Yes, ants can climb ceilings, due to their ability to create suction with their pretarsal adhesive pads.

Can Ants Climb on Glass?

Ants can climb on glass, however, it depends whether the glass has been coated, covered, or processed with some kind of polish or slippery substance. 

Can Ant Climb Vaseline?

No, ants can’t climb vaseline-covered surfaces. Vaseline is very slippery, which will counteract ants climbing mechanisms. When surfaces are slippery, ants won’t be able to use their suction pads or fine hairs to create friction. Vaseline also prevents ants from using their claws to hang on.

Can Ants Climb Plastic?

Yes, ants can climb up plastic surfaces. They can do so due to their ability to create suction with their pads. They also use fine hairs on their feet to create friction. When starting to slip, the fine hairs will activate, causing the ant to stop slipping.

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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