What Do Ants Eat? | Ant Feeding Habits

Most people encounter ants more frequently than any other insect, yet most people know very little about these remarkable creatures. For example, how many species of ants are they, how do they reproduce and what do they like to eat. These are just some of the basic things that people are not familiar with. In this article, we are going to discuss their diet preferences.

So, what do ants eat? The short answer to this question is that ants eat almost everything. That’s one of the keys to the ants’ ability to survive in a wide variety of habitats. Ants, like people, are omnivores. That means that their diet consists of plants and animals, providing them with sources of both carbohydrates and protein. The most common foods for ants to eat are plants, seeds, nectar, fruits, grains, other insects, and honeydew secretion, which is a sweet liquid secreted by aphids and some scale insects. 

Most ants are foragers, this means they leave their nest to go out and find their food.  When a food source is located, they will leave a trail of pheromones behind them that acts as an ant GPS. This ensures that other ants are able to find their way to the food, collect it, and carry it back to their nest.

While most of the meat consumed by ants comes from the remains of animals who are already dead, some ants, like the army ant, will actually kill and eat other insects or small animals, such as worms. 

There are even some species of ants who will create “farms” or gardens where there will grow and harvest their own food. The fungus-growing ant, for example, will bring grass and leaves back to their nest to grow mushrooms for the colony.

If ants make their way into your home, they will be most attracted to sweet foods like jelly and honey, but will also eat just about anything you have available in your kitchen.

There are more than 10,000 different species of ants all over the world. While we can’t cover them all in this article, let’s take a look at some more well-known types of ants and what they like to eat.

Related: How Many Types of Ants Are There: Ant Identification Chart

Different Types of Ants and Their Feeding Habits


What Do Carpenter Ants Eat?

Carpenter ants are known for destroying wood in and around the home, causing structural problems. While this is true, it isn’t because they are eating the wood! They are actually chewing and burrowing into the wood to make their nests. In their natural environment, carpenter ants eat things like other similar insects, including honeydew secretion. 

If carpenter ants find their way into your home, they will feed on sweet things like jelly, honey, sugar, and will also eat the food of your pet.


What Do Fire Ants Eat?

What Do Fire Ants Eat

Fire ants are known for their nasty bite. They grip onto their prey (or unsuspecting picnicker) and inject venom with a stinger located between their jaws. They will eat worms, ticks, spiders, and other insects, as well as seeds, honeydew, and other sweet foods.


What Do Red Ants Eat?

Red ants have a similar diet to fire ants, only they are more well-known for their venomous sting. Red ants have a stinger on the end of their abdomen which they use to inject a paralyzing venom into their prey. If they come across a dead animal already infested with fly larvae (maggots), they will consume the larvae along with the dead animal flesh. 

This provides an extra protein source for the ants and ensures that more of the carcass will be left for them. Also, they eat “regular” ant food as well.


What Do Flying Ants Eat?

Although they have the ability to take flight, the flying ants’ diet doesn’t differ much from their ground-dwelling cousins. They consume both plant-based foods as well as animal proteins. 

Important: If you think you’ve spotted flying ants in or around your home, take a second look. You may be dealing with termites, which look very similar! Watch for these following differences.


Termites:

  • Four wings of equal size
  • Straight bodies
  • Straight antenna

Whereas flying ants:

  • Front wings are longer than their back wings
  • Bent antennae
  • Defined abdomen

If you are unsure, contact a professional. A termite problem could cause serious structural damage to your home.  


What Do Leafcutter Ants Eat?

What Do Leafcutter Ants Eat

Leafcutter ants are a very unique species with a very special skill: They are agriculturalists! These unique creatures will cut grass and other plants, then bring it back to their nest to be mixed with ant fecal matter and spores of the fungus. 

Eventually, mushrooms will grow inside the nest providing the leaf cutter ants with a convenient source of food!


What Do Harvester Ants Eat?

Harvester ants’ diets consist mainly of seeds, but they will also eat dead insects and grass. An interesting fact about harvester ants: they have been known to travel up to 31 miles away from their nests in search of food! 

Unlike other ants, this species doesn’t usually pose a nuisance to humans, as they are not commonly known to enter homes in search of food.


What Do Velvet Ants Eat?

Velvet ants, despite the name, are not ants at all. They are a species of wasp! It can be easy to confuse females with a “velvety” looking ants due to its fuzzy, wingless appearance. Velvet ants, like bees and wasps, eat nectar from plants.


What Do Green Tree Ants Eat?

Green tree ants, also known as weaver ants, are a unique species of ant found in the northern region of Australia. They are known for building their nest in trees between the living leaves. They primarily eat small insects and honeydew secretion.

Interestingly, these ants are known for their remarkable relationship with the blue butterflies. When blue butterflies are ready to lay their eggs, they will search for a green tree ant nest, and lay their eggs near the nest. When the eggs hatch, the ants will find the larvae and carefully carry them back to their ant nest.

This is where something incredible happens: instead of the ants eating the larvae, they take care of them! The ants watch over the larvae, protecting them from predators and helping them find food.  In the meantime, the larvae provide the ants with honeydew secretions to eat. After the larvae have completely developed and are ready to leave the nest, the ants simply let them go.


What Do Queen Ants Eat?

What Do Queen Ants Eat

Queen ants eat whatever her colony eats.  But because queen ants rarely leave their nests, they will typically get served their food in the nest where they lay their eggs.  Most species of ants have workers who are responsible for feeding the queen and removing her waste while she is busy laying eggs.  (She can use all the help she can get, as some species of queen ants can lay millions of eggs in her lifetime!)


How Can I Prevent Ants From Invading My Kitchen?

There are ways to prevent ants from making your kitchen their home. Store as much food as possible, especially ripe fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. Be sure to wipe down countertops after each meal, as ants will be attracted to any remaining crumbs, sugar, or juice left behind.

Clean up any spills as quickly as possible.  Also, be sure to store opened packages of food in sealed containers, and take the garbage out regularly. Ants are also attracted to water sources, so check your plumbing for any leaks that might attract the ants’ attention.

It’s also a good idea to check for any cracks around your windows and doors.  If you have any, use a caulking gun (or hire someone) to make sure your house is sealed up properly.   If you have pets, clear any uneaten food from their bowls once they’ve finished eating.  Even a few crumbs of pet food left behind can be enough to trigger an ant problem in your home.


What Do I Do If I Already Have Ants in My Kitchen?

If you find ants in your kitchen, don’t panic. There are a number of things you can do.  You could call an exterminator, but you can save some money by taking care of the problem yourself.

Try using a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar to wipe up the ants and all kitchen surfaces.  The solution will kill them and also help erase any pheromone trails they may have left behind.  If you are persistent, doing this several times a day will help take care of your ant problem.

If you continue to have issues, consider purchasing an “ant bait” product. Ant bait contains an ingredient that tastes sweet to ants but will be deadly to the colony when brought back to the nest.

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The more ants that come in contact with the ant bait, the more damage will be done to the colony.

You can also try using diatomaceous earth around the points of your house you believe ants may be entering, it is an all-natural powder that can help kill and deter insects.

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Just be sure to keep the powder away from children and pets, as breathing in diatomaceous earth can be irritating to the lungs.


Can Ants Transmit Diseases to People?

While most people consider ants to be more of a nuisance than a danger, it’s important not to overlook their potential to spread bacteria and diseases. Ants are capable of transmitting diseases such as E. coli and salmonella. 

Therefore, it’s best to take care of an ant problem quickly. Get rid of any food you suspect the ants may have come into contact with.


Summary

By observing what and how ants eat, we are able to see them clearly for what they are: incredibly social and innovative creatures worthy of our respect! Still, none of us would want to have them in their house because they can infect our foods with various germs that can be deadly for us.

Keep foods away and well stored, with this, most ants will be kept out of your house. If you have ants call the exterminators or use our site to get rid of them. Follow us for more pest control tips. Best of luck!


List of Sources

Lanan M. (2014). Spatiotemporal resource distribution and foraging strategies of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological news20, 53–70.

Lenzen C., Radeva T., The Power of Pheromones in Ant Foraging

Red Harvester Ants, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Nyamukondiwa, C., & Addison, P. (2014). Food preference and foraging activity of ants: recommendations for field applications of low-toxicity baits. Journal of insect science (Online)

Velvet Ants, Missouri Department of Conservation

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