If you’ve ever seen an ant dragging a chunk of food larger than itself, you may have wondered about the eating habits of these tiny, industrious insects. What do ants eat and drink? How do they find their food? How long can they go without eating? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore all of these questions and more.
What You'll Learn Today
What Do Ants Eat and Drink?
Ants are omnivores; this means they will eat almost anything, including insects that are larger than they are.
There are thousands of ant species that live throughout the world; their respective diets may vary depending on what they have available in given regions. Different species may also have different preferences in terms of what they like to eat; for example, some may prefer sugar and sweet foods while others prefer bits of meat.
Some of the many food ants will eat include:
- Leaves and plant matter: Some types of ants, such as leafcutter ants, collect bits of leaves and take them into their nest. They don’t eat these leaves fresh but use them to produce a fungus to feed on.
Many ants eat other kinds of plant matter as well, such as fruit, vegetables, seeds, and grains. Some also eat nectar and even petals and buds of flowers.
- Insects: Many types of ants eat other insects. Sometimes they will kill these insects before eating them, or they will collect and eat ones that are already dead; other times, they catch and eat the insects alive.
Some types of ants even cannibalize other ants.
- Small mammals, birds, etc: Fire ants, in particular, are known for killing and eating certain types of small animals. Other types of ants will also eat live and dead animals such as rats, moles, birds, frogs, and lizards.
- Decaying meat: Many ants that don’t kill and eat fresh meat will eat decaying meat. When they find dead animals and insects that have been dead for a while, they will take small chunks of the decaying meat back to their nests and leave scent trails so other colony members can find their way to the food source.
- Sugary foods: Many ants enjoy sugary sweet foods such as honey, syrup, sugar, jelly, and deserts. Sugar ants, in particular, eat sweet foods as the majority of their diet.
As far as what ants drink, they mostly drink water. Sometimes they get it from the food they eat, but they frequently drink water directly from edges of ponds and puddles or from drops of water on surfaces.
They will also drink fruit juice, soda, and sugar water if they can get it; this way, they can fill up on both food and water at once.
Check out this timelapse video of ants devouring a raspberry over a couple of days.
How Do Ants Find Food?
Ants typically don’t have a hard time finding food; they eat so many different things that it’s almost impossible for them to not find something they can eat; and most of the time, they can find it without going very far.
They often find food very quickly because it’s all around them. They can find plant-based foods and insects in abundance during the warm months, and they stock their tunnels with food for the cold months.
Ants explore various areas around their nests looking for food. They leave scent trails for other ants to follow when they’ve found a large source of food and need help taking it back to the nest.
They usually search areas no more than 100 yards from their nest, but this may depend on the species of ant. They most often search for food at night, but they’re sometimes active during morning and evening as well.
When searching for food, ants use their impressive sense of smell to find it. Ants smell food much better than other insects do; the sensors on their antennae are as much as 4 to 5 times as sensitive as those of most insects.
How Far Can Ants Smell?
It depends on the species of ant. Some can only smell food from up to a few centimeters away, but many others can smell much farther than that.
On average, most ants smell at a distance between 3 and 10 yards, depending on the species. Some others can smell food and locate it from as much as a mile away.
Regardless of the specific distance, these smelling powers are impressive for such small insects. As noted above, most insects can’t smell food from so far away, so ants have the edge when it comes to locating their next meal.
How Long Can Ants Live Without Food?
Ants can go for as long as 10 days without food–a surprising amount of time considering their small size and active lifestyle.
Some types of ants need food more often than that; they may only be able to survive for a couple of days without it. What’s more, their survival may depend on multiple factors.
For example, ants may go longer without food in the winter when they are less active. They would need more food during the hot months when they are actively searching for food and building tunnels.
They must store up food for winter to be able to survive without routinely foraging for food.
They may forage in winter on relatively warm days, but they usually stay in their nests and tunnels for months on end. They must have a lot of food stored up for this period of time.
Ants are omnivores. They eat a wide variety of foods from sugary sweet things to insects to meat from animals. Different species of ant prefer different foods, but in general, they are not very picky at all.