A Look at What Ants Eat

Ever wonder what ants eat? There are over 12,000 identified species of ants living on every continent of the world except Antarctica. By some estimates, ants make up almost 25 percent of the world's animal biomass. That's a lot of mouths to feed!

Most Ants Eat What They Can Find

In general, ants are omnivorous, that is, they eat many different types of food. However, given that ants have been around for millions of years, it's not surprising that some species have developed some very particular eating habits. Here's the low down on what ants eat:

  • It's all good. Many ants are happy to eat whatever they find, including plants, seeds and other insects. Ants are also particularly attracted to sweet things-either sweet plant sap or that spilled ice cream cone on the sidewalk. Ant colonies often have scouts that will seek out food sources, mark them with a special scent and make a scent trail back to the nest.
  • Staying hydrated. Even though different species of ants may eat different things, they all need a steady source of water. Many times ants will invade a home not looking for food, but for a cool drink of water. If you have ants in your house, be sure to check for leaking pipes or other accidental water sources.
  • Farmer Brown. The leafcutter ant has evolved to eat a specific type of fungus. The ants will farm this fungus in special underground gardens by combining leaf cuttings with saliva to promote fungal growth. These ants are so specialize that they can tell which plants grow the best fungus!
  • The ranchers. The taste for sweet nectar called honeydew has prompted turf ants to tend and raise their own aphids. These ants will collect tend aphid eggs over the winter. In spring, they will carry the young aphid to plants, allow the aphids to feed and then milk the aphids for the sweet honeydew nectar their bodies produce.
  • Bug hunt. Army ants are famous for their frenzied feeding raids. These ants will swarm together in groups as large as 1.5 million individuals, killing anything they encounter including insects, birds, mammals and sometimes humans.
  • It's just a house! Often misunderstood, carpenter ants don't actually eat wood. These specialized ants are as omnivorous as their cousins, but they've developed the ability to chew through soft wood to make their homes.
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