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What Do Ants Eat? The Diet of Ants

Ants are one of the more interesting insects that we have on Earth. They have been around for 150 million years, and they play a big role in what happens with our environment. 

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What ants eat
  • What different types of ants prefer
  • What they typically hunt or scavenge for food
  • Their diet

Lastly, we’ll look at some examples of what different types of ants like to eat and how they find their food.

Ant eats almost anything. They are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Ants’ favorite food is usually something containing sugar, but they also like food rich in protein and fat.

Ants Are Omnivores

Ants are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Some species of ants are predatory (hunt for other insects) while others feed on carrion (already dead or decaying insects).

Some agricultural ants grow their own fungus to provide nutrients for the colony. Dairying ants keep aphids that produce honeydew.

This alone is what makes ants such a successful species; they can eat both plants and animals (fungi, arthropods), as well as fats, sugars, and salt to maintain their natural balance.

ants on a wet flower

Predatory Ants

Predatory ants typically hunt and kill other insects for food. They have a varied diet, eating spiders, cockroaches, termites, caterpillars, aphids (insects), as well as other species of ants.

These types of ants eat what’s available to them in their environment; they usually aren’t picky about what type of insect they eat.

ant attacks an insect

Carrion-Eater Ants

Carrion-eating ants are a type of ant that eats what is already dead or decomposing, just like hyenas or vultures. They will eat meat, fish, and other insects to get protein in their diet. 

Carrion-eaters tend to be larger than other types of ants because they need more sustenance from food sources like carrion.

Sometimes, ants will even eat other dead ants.

ants on dead animal

Agricultural Ants

Agricultural ants are what most people think of when they hear the word “ants.” They tend to eat plants (or things coming from plants such as sugar) and grow fungus in much the same way that humans farm crops. 

This separates them from the types of ants that feed on meat, who do not cultivate food sources.

Ant’s farming starts with moss or rich soil where fungi can grow. This type of ant tends to the fungus, but it takes time for the fungus to grow and start producing what they need. 

The ants feed their larvae with what they produce; this becomes what we know as fungal jelly.

Leafcutter ants carry pieces of vegetation

Leafcutter ants are specialists in growing their own fungus, feeding it freshly cut leaves to keep it growing. [1]

Dairying Ants

Some ants are known as dairying ants. These kinds of ants “milk” their own food source, which includes aphids and other plant lice. 

ants and aphids

The young in the colony will take hold of a soft part on the underside of the abdomen and induce the honeydew to flow by stroking with their antennae. 

The honeydew will then travel through the intraductal pocket in the ant’s throat and into its stomach for digestion. 

This is very much like humans holding cattle. 

What Do Ants Like to Eat?

Generally, ants like to eat:

  • Fatty foods like fatty insects.
  • Sweet food like sugar.
  • Salty food.

There are many types of ants, so what one ant likes to eat might not be what another eats. 

It’s also important to note that ants may change their diet based on the time of year and what they need for sustenance when in different life stages (such as larva or adult).

Fatty Foods

Ants are known to eat fatty food, which they get from sources like oil and grease. Some ants even collect these substances for their own consumption, hoarding it to make sure they have enough for the future.

Sweet Food

Ants that eat sweet food include honeypot ants, honey ants, and sugar ants, among others.

Sweet foods include fruits, honey, syrup, nectar, or anything they can get their hands on from your kitchen.

Honeypot Ants spend most of their life as a worker for the colony, and some of these workers work as “repletes”, which is living food storage. 

Also read: Why are ants attracted to sugar?

ant eating on a spoon

Repletes can store up to 40 times their body weight in honey and can be as large as a grape when full.

If the colony does not have enough resources to survive then the workers eat off of these repletes for nourishment.

Salty Food

While most ants prefer sweet food, some species eat salty things as well. Ants that live in salt-poor environments prefer salty foods over anything else [2]

Ants need to uphold their salt balance. Salt helps all animals keep their body functions going. In order to maintain their salt levels, they also consume tiny arthropods such as mites and springtails.

ants eating food on the ground

Different Kinds of Ants and Their Preferred Food

As said, there are a lot of ant species, and most of them have their own preference when it comes to food, whether it be living animals, decaying meat, or fruits and other plants.

Odorus House Ants (Honeydew)

The Odorous House Ant, also known as Tapinoma sessile, is a common household pest. They feed on sweet secretions from aphids and other insects such as mealybugs. 

When they don’t have access to these foods they tend to go after sugary human food that we eat (honey, syrups, candy, etc.).

These ants are what is known as “dairying” ants because they keep aphids for their sweet secretions. 

Aphids produce a sugary substance called honeydew that the ants love to eat. These types of ants can be found in many climates including temperate, humid, and coastal regions around the world.

Carpenter Ants (Sugary Foods)

Carpenter ants are what you may commonly see swarming around your home. They eat sap, fruit juices, other insects, and honeydew (sugary secretion from aphids). 

The queen carpenter ant has a high-protein diet that consists of dead animals like birds or small mammals. She also feeds on nectar and tree sap.

Read more: What do carpenter ants eat?

The male carpenter ant feeds on what the queen is feeding him. When he leaves to mate, his diet then switches to what is most available that will allow him to survive for as long as possible. 

This means he eats honeydew and nectar when it’s available but has been seen eating bird droppings or pet food when it’s what he has access to.

Fire Ants (Meat and Grease)

Fire ants are one of the most common species in North America, and what they eat varies widely based on what they can find in their habitat. They can be found all over the continent and their numbers vary drastically from location to location. 

Generally speaking, fire ants will scavenge carcasses or hunt for food, as they can take down saller animals with their painful sting.

Leafcutter Ants (Fungus)

Leafcutter ants are one of the most well-known species because they cut leaves and bring them back to their nests. They eat fungus that grows on the decomposing leaf matter in what is called a “fungus garden”.

They will feed and grow their fungus garden to make sure they always have food.

Crazy Ants (Protein and Insects)

Crazy ants will eat almost anything they can find. The workers like sugars and eat a variety of other insects, but what they eat the most is actually protein. 

They will find small bugs in your house and carry them back to their nests where larvae can consume them for essential nutrients during development.

If they find any nectar from plants or aphids, they don’t hesitate to ingest this as well.

How Do Ants Find Food?

Ants use multiple senses to locate food. They can smell what they are looking for, and their antennae help them detect what is nearby. 

The most important sense that ants use when seeking out new food sources is smell and chemosense. Their sense of smell is very advanced, and as many other insects, they rely on the ability to sense chemicals around them.

Read more: How do ants find food?

Ants will also communicate with their colony about where to find food. If an ant finds food, the worker will run back to the colony with some, while laying down something called a pheromone trail.

Trail Pheromone

Ants communicate with each other using pheromones. Trail pheromone is what ants lay down when they are on their way to a food source or back to the nest. It’s what people refer to as “ant track”. 

This trail of chemicals will act as a road for new ants that come along later, so if you’re trying to get rid of ants it’s best you don’t kill the ones with pheromones.

trail of ants

When other workers from the ant colony follow this trail, they will strengthen it with their own pheromone (of the same type). As more and more ants follow the trail, the scent trail will become stronger.

This is why you might’ve seen a lot of ants following the same path to and from a food source. This is also what can lead a lot of ants into your home.

What Do Ants Eat In Your Home?

Ants will consume a lot of things from your home – almost any food you have in your kitchen. Depending on the species, they will target different items like sugar, chips, bread, fruit, or other items.

If you’re experiencing an ant infestation because of food, make sure you clean up your home and put any food you have left out away. You can also place these items in plastic containers.

Also read: What attracts ants?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are predatory ants?

Predatory ants are a species that hunts and kills other insects for food, such as termites or beetle larvae, so they can feed their own colony.

What are carrion-eating ants?

Carrion-eating ants mainly consume already dead/decaying insects where the protein source comes from because it does not have to do much work digging up the insects. Instead, they find what is already dead and decaying on the ground to eat what protein there is in the insect when it dies.

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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