Did you know that for every human on Earth, there are 2.5 million ants? This means that, in total, there are around 20 quadrillion ants on Earth.
Dang, it's a good thing that these guys are so small. If they suddenly became the size of humans, just think of how much they'd eat! Since most ants are omnivores, they'd probably gobble up all the plant and animal life on Earth.
Of course, certain species of ants prioritize different kinds of foods over others. So the answer to the question "what do ants eat?" is more complicated than you may think. Read on to learn more.
As most ants are omnivores, ant diets can consist of any type of plant or animal they wish. But their size usually limits the type of food that they can get.
If they could, say, take down a cow, they would. But they can usually only eat beef when a cow dies near their hill. The same situation happens for all animals that are bigger than the ants.
So most of the time, ants will eat the following foods.
Ants that live in areas with plenty of plants will often eat the seeds of those plants. In turn, they can help certain species of plants survive. When they consume these seeds, they prevent certain species from reproducing to the point where they'll crowd out other species.
Most ants are attracted to sugar and sugary foods. If they get inside your home, you can bet that they'll go right to the honey, maple syrup, candy, etc. Experts believe that ants love sugar because it gives them the energy that they need to continue being busy little workers.
Of course, it's not always easy for ants to find sugar. That hasn't stopped many ant species from taking natural shortcuts to get sweet, sweet goodies.
Some ants will partner up with aphids and use them to get the sugar that they need. Aphids create honeydew. When ants eat this, it gives them a similar effect that sugar does.
In exchange for the delicious honeydew, the ants will protect the aphids from predators that may attack them. Ladybugs are a good example of common aphid predators.
Ants don't just farm aphids. Some species also farm various fungi species and then feed these fungi to their larvae. For them, it's an easy way to ensure that their larvae grow up into healthy adults.
To help the fungi grow, ants will often feed it with leaves. They'll chew these leaves into a pulp and allow the fungi to grow on it. They then periodically break off pieces of the fungi and feed them to their larvae.
While ants cannot take down animal species that are many times bigger than them, they can take down insects that are larger than them. Many ants will form hunting groups that use their combined strength to kill and consume these insects. Ants will happily consume the dead bodies of large insects as well.
Sometimes ants will raid and destroy entire colonies of other insects. Some ants are known to raid termite nests, eat their eggs and larvae, and then completely take over the colony.
Ants don't usually eat ants from their colonies. They may do this if there's a food shortage. Queens may also eat some of their larvae until there are enough workers to gather food for them.
As a whole, though, they don't even eat the dead bodies of their colony mates. They're usually very respectful towards their dead. They often have dedicated areas for graveyards and/or bury their dead colony mates.
They aren't as merciful to ants from other colonies. Ants will often steal eggs and larvae from other ant colonies and use them as a source of food.
Ants can get plenty of the proteins that they need from other insects or any of the dead meat that they may find. If they can't find this protein, however, they will search for other sources of it. For example, ants will often grab eggs, grease, peanut butter, etc.
An ant's environment also limits the types of food it can gather. This is likely why certain species of ants favor certain foods. They've evolved to look for foods that are abundant in their natural habitats.
These are dark brown or black ants and are one of the most common types. They get their name from the smell they excrete when they are threatened and/or killed. This smell serves as a warning to the other colony members in the area.
These types of ants prefer sugary foods so they'll actively seek out honeydew and other goodies they can find. They also have partially insect diets. They'll prefer to seek out dead insects when they can't find something sweet.
Fire ants will eat a wide variety of foods such as plants, seeds, meats, and more. They also like to eat dead insects such as ticks, worms, and spiders.
You'll also find fire ants taking down prey that is several times larger than them. They probably can't take down cows, but they can take down animals as large as young songbirds. They do this by using their venomous stingers to take down their prey.
Carpenter ants are often mistaken for termites as they seem to eat wood and show up in termite-infested areas. The truth is that carpenter ants often eat termites and remove wood to build their nests.
Inside homes, they're often drawn to meat and pet food. Carpenter ants will readily eat sugar and sugary foods as well.
This species of ant originated in Argentina but then managed to migrate all over the world. Argentine ant food tends to vary depending on where they are at the moment.
If there are plenty of insects in the area, they'll readily prey on them. If they can't find any insects, they'll switch to eating sugar water and aphid honeydew.
You can often find these ants in the warmer, southern states of America. They get their name from their seemingly erratic movements.
These ants love sweet foods as well. However, they prefer to eat protein-rich foods like other insects, meat, and grease.
Leafcutter ants don't eat the leaves they cut. They bring these pieces back to their nests and use them to grow fungi. They then use these fungi to feed themselves and their larvae.
No matter what food they eat, most ants will collect and distribute food in the same way. Worker ants will search and find food for the colony. They will then gather it and bring it back to the colony.
Worker ants can guide other ants to sources of ant food by the use of pheromones. Once a worker finds food, they will release these pheromones to tell other ants of the food that's nearby. Ants will then follow the trail of this scent to the food.
Worker ants don't always carry food back to the colony. Sometimes they will store food inside one of their two stomachs. This stomach will not digest the food that the workers put into it.
Their other stomach is for personal nutrition.
Once the worker ants return to the colony, other ants will approach them. They will then help the ant regurgitate the food from the second stomach. This food will go to the queen, larvae, and other nestmates.
Sometimes, especially during lean periods, colony workers can store food inside themselves for long periods. They will then steadily regurgitate this food to keep feeding the colony. This will help everyone survive.
Worker ants tend to change the types of foods they look for depending on the current needs of the colony. The queen, through the use of signals, will command them to gather different kinds of food at different times of the year.
Most colony expansion efforts take place in the spring. The queen will ask the worker ants to bring back protein-rich foods during this time.
Once the larvae have developed, the focus turns to worker ants and the rest of the colony. The queen will ask for carbohydrate-rich foods so that everyone can have enough energy.
So what do ants eat? They're capable of eating just about anything, but the common types prefer to eat sweeter foods and different meats. They'll also go for different kinds of food depending on the current season.
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