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.
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.
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.
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.
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.