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Ants

What ants eat

Ants exist in all types and live everywhere. They eat a wide variety of foods which tells us how to manage their presence. Knowing what ants eat can help us to eradicate them, because, like any other insect, ants need to live near a source of food.

What makes ants different from other insects?

To understand their diet, you must know that ants are essentially social. That is, they have a gregarious character that forces them to live in giant colonies. This means that their food must be abundant and permanently accessible. Therefore, they live close to the things that feed them.

Another notable feature that relates them to us and to bees is that ants “harvest” their food in many of their species. They also possess the ability to store and distribute their food to keep their colonies in ideal conditions for their numbers. This is a very rare occurrence in nature, but in ants it represents one of the conditions that have allowed them to survive and spread in the way they have.

Qualifying ants and their diet

A first basic characteristic is that ants are omnivorous, i.e., they can feed on almost any available material. But they are highly specialised, i.e., each species feeds on a specific material. Some, such as the red fire ants, can eat almost anything, but others feed only on items such as fungi that they grow themselves. Let’s look at some alternatives on the ant menu.

Carnivores

No ants that feed on other insects and small animals that they hunt. Their main advantage is represented by their numbers, which are usually relatively superior to the prey they attack. This type of ant is usually aggressive, but only towards its preferred prey. They maintain a non-aggression pact with humans, depending on the occupation of their habitats. If we do not disturb them, they do not appreciate our presence.

Scavengers

These are ants that feed on dead animals, thus providing a critical natural service. Together with other animals of the same diet, such as vultures and hyenas, they take care of the smallest carcasses.

Farming ants

One of the most interesting phenomena in ant feeding is the harvesting of fungi. This type of ant collects cellulose-rich materials, especially leaves, and stores them. In the process, fungi are generated with the moisture in the ants’ habitats. These fungi represent the colony’s sustenance.

In this case, another phenomenon that characterises ants is the division of labour. When we observe a column of foragers, we only see a minimal part of the social process involved. Once they arrive at the colony, they pass the work to the storage ants, who place the material in specialised chambers where the fungus is generated. Other harvesters then process and generate food for another process, feeding aphids that in turn generate food for the entire group. These are quite sophisticated functions that draw attention to the organisation of the ants.

ants eat

Specialisation in the feeding process as the basis for the ants’ success

Beyond the fact that we want to control them, one of the ways to do so is precisely by understanding their feeding mechanisms. The sophistication we mentioned above also reaches other areas. Work is distributed, as well as hierarchies, perfectly aligned with the feeding process. There are well-defined tasks. The collectors are skilled at finding and selecting the materials that feed them. In turn, they generate mechanisms to identify the pathways for the rest of their companions to reach the source of nutrients.

In this case, they use a chemical identified as a pheromone. The extraordinary thing is that each colony has its variations of this chemical. In this way, they establish a path to follow, which also indicates to the soldier ants which areas to protect from other colonies or potential predators. Communication is essential to them and is the way they maintain a predetermined working order.

Feeding ants and our home

Once we understand that they eat almost anything, we can understand what binds them to our homes. At home, they find a remarkable variety of potential foods, not just our own, but other things like plants. Likewise, in the cupboard, they find flours and sugars that are preferential for many species, which is why we consider ants to be pests.

It is therefore essential to consider the feeding aspects to assess the defence mechanisms we can employ. The most common are chemical traps in which the food they prefer is mixed. But the essential thing is prevention. They will take up space, it is almost impossible to eliminate them. However, we can limit the things they affect, with airtight containers and cleaning up crumbs and waste.

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Ants

Do ants bite?

We’ve all seen a film where a swarm of insects slowly devour a character. However, it is a matter of size and quantity, as in the case of ants. Of course, they bite, in fact, it is an action that refers to their ability to feed and defend themselves. However, do ants really bite?

Insect bites

Generally, we have little to do with insects, at least not directly. However, it is possible that we have been bitten by spiders, fleas, or even bees. In the latter case, it is not really a bite, but a sting. Others, such as fleas, bite the skin to feed on our fluids and others simply defend themselves. This is the case with ants. Preparing for any of these cases is essential, let’s see how to do it.

The variety of ants and their bites

In the case of ant bites, this is related to the species and the situation in which they find themselves with us. Most of the existing varieties do not actually bite. However, some specialise in feeding on living tissue, either plant or animal. For this reason, nature has endowed them in a special way with cutting elements. This is the case of red or fire ants. They receive their name precisely because of the pain represented by their sting.

Why does the ant’s sting hurt?

In the case of the fire ant and many other species, there is a combination that makes an encounter with them painful. The first is that, when they feel threatened, they defend themselves by applying their mandibles to the foreign element, i.e., us. They also extend their bite as far as possible, successively biting the area in which they find themselves.

The other element that makes the sting painful is related to a poison they inject when biting, called piperidine. This causes swelling and a small infection in the most severe cases, which are the ones that make it a real nuisance.

Symptoms of ant bites

In this respect, if the little offender is not immediately present, there are some tell-tale signs. 

  • A small bump on the affected area.
  • This is deep reddish and no larger than 50 mm in size.
  • In the case of the fire ant, the swelling will remain the next day and is likely to become infected. In these cases, pus will be present in the affected area.
  • Normally, there are several stings in the same area, due to the gregarious nature of ants. In other words, if we come across them, generally, we do so in their habitat, and it is likely that there will be several stings.
  • There is the possibility of an allergic reaction to the ant’s bite, especially in the case of those that inoculate venom.
  • In this rare case, the affected area becomes swollen to a considerable extent. When stings are numerous, it can cause anaphylactic shock, making breathing difficult.

Treatment of ant bites

As we have indicated above, it is not a common occurrence that ant bites are serious.

When it is a local affectation

In these cases, the bites will be few, and the consequences will be of equal quality. The ideal is to apply cold water to the affected area in the form of compresses. An antihistamine cream can also be used, but this is nothing to worry about. Let’s say it’s mostly to prevent any further symptoms in the form of discomfort. Ideally, it is best not to scratch your skin to avoid unnecessary injuries or scrapes. It is understood that the first reaction is to scratch, but it is not the most advisable thing to do.

There will be cases in which the involvement is more intense, and the welts persist and become infected. In some cases, the application of steroids will be necessary. This is a treatment that can last up to a week, waiting for the inflammation to go down.

Any treatment must be suggested by a professional, do not medicate yourself nor take the information shown here as a professional medical advice.

When the bite is extensive or causes allergic reactions

As we indicated above, everything will depend on certain circumstances. One of these is if the number of insects is considerable. In these cases, more severe reactions to the bites may occur. In these cases, the chance of developing allergic reactions is possible and in severe cases the application of epinephrine is recommended. This is an action that should be carried out by doctor or specialised paramedical personnel. These are cases in which the patient knows that he/she has this type of reaction and should report it immediately.

Some preliminary care to avoid ant bites

In general, both biting and non-biting species tend to live in large communities. This means that you can identify their habitat easily. That would be the first necessary precaution.

On the other hand, if you walk outdoors, you are more likely to encounter colonies and recognise them immediately. The first clue is the presence of the ants themselves. The second is the churned earth around the colony, as well as a noticeable bulge in the ground. In these cases, the ideal thing to do is simply to move away.  

Another necessary precaution is to consider the use of insect repellents. Moreover, the use of protective clothing if it is essential to walk through places where ants normally live. Prevention is based on our ability to avoid them, plain and simple.