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From Sugar to Insects: What Do Ants Eat

Understanding the Diverse and Surprising Diet of Ants

What do ants eat?

what do ants eat
Carebara Diversa tearing apart seven preys

Ants are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Most humans are also omnivores. Ants eat the same we eat. You can give them sweets (organic honey) and protein-rich food (protein jelly).


Introduction to ant diet diversity

Ants, those tiny creatures that scurry around tirelessly, have a surprisingly diverse diet. While we may associate ants with sugar and picnic food, their culinary preferences go far beyond that. Ants are adept at finding and consuming a wide range of foods in the wild. Understanding the intricacies of their diet can provide fascinating insights into their behaviour and biology.

What do ants eat in the wild?

In the wild, ants have an impressive ability to adapt to their environment and find food sources that suit their needs. Their diet can vary greatly depending on the species and location. While some ants are generalists and will eat almost anything they find, others have specialized preferences. Ants are known to feed on nectar, fruits, seeds, and plant sap. They also play a crucial role as decomposers, consuming dead insects and other organic matter. Some ants are even carnivorous, preying on other insects or small animals. The diversity in their diet is a testament to their resourcefulness and ability to thrive in different ecosystems.

Ant feeding habits and behaviour

Ants are social insects, living in colonies with specific roles and duties. Some ants live in small colonies with just 100 workers, like Temnothorax Nilandery and other species like the Argentine Ants have multiple queens and can reach up to 2 billion workers. Their feeding habits are intricately connected to their social structure. For example, worker ants are responsible for foraging and bringing food back to the colony. They communicate through chemical trails, allowing them to navigate back and forth between the food source and the nest.

Ants have a remarkable ability to locate food, often travelling long distances in search of resources. The harvester ants can forage for seeds up to 200 meters. They use their highly sensitive antennae to detect chemical cues and navigate towards potential food sources. This behaviour not only ensures the survival of the individual ant but also benefits the entire colony.

Understanding the role of ant larvae in the diet

marauder ants brood eggs and pupae

Ant larvae play a crucial role in the overall diet of the colony. They are often fed a protein-rich diet consisting of small insects or other sources of animal protein. The worker ants regurgitate partially digested food to feed the larvae, ensuring their growth and development. This "brood care" strategy is essential for the survival and success of the ant colony. This is the place to let you know that we just upgraded our protein jelly so it is the perfect food source for your ants’ needs. It contains everything the ant colony needs for a healthy queen and bind-blowing colony growth. No more live food needed, no more money wasted.

The diet of ant larvae varies depending on the species. Some ants may feed their larvae with seeds or plant matter, while others rely solely on animal protein. This diversity in larval diet showcases the adaptability and versatility of ants as a group.

Popular ant species and their preferred foods

Black garden ants

Black garden ants, also known as Lasius niger, are omnivorous creatures. They feed on a variety of foods, including nectar, honeydew and insects. They are often seen foraging in gardens and can be attracted to sugary substances. All the Lasius species (Lasius Niger, Lasius Flavus plus 50 more lasius species) have a similar, almost identical, food diet.

Fire ants

Fire ants, such as Myrmica Rubra, are known for their aggressive behaviour and painful sting. They are opportunistic feeders, consuming both plant and animal matter. Fire ants are particularly fond of sugary substances, but they also feed on other insects and small animals.

Harvester ants

Harvester ants have a specialized diet focused on seeds. Our oldest colony we are still looking after is a Messor Barbarus. It is 17 years old colony and the ants have never been fed with anything but seed mix.

Harvester ants are known for their impressive seed-harvesting behaviour, which involves cutting and storing seeds in their underground chambers. These ants have evolved to have strong jaws and specialized body structures to handle the challenging task of seed collection.

Argentine ants

Argentine ants, Linepithema humile, are highly adaptable and invasive species. They have a diverse diet, feeding on honeydew, nectar, insects, and even small vertebrates. Argentine ants are known for forming large supercolonies, where multiple nests work together to exploit food resources.

Leafcutter ants

Leafcutter ants, belonging to the genus Atta and Acromyrmex, have a unique diet that revolves around the consumption of fungus. They cut leaves from plants and use them as a substrate for growing a specialized fungus, which becomes their primary food source. Leaf-cutter ants have complex societies that involve different castes and a highly organized foraging system. Leaf-cutters are one of the strongest ants in the world, after the Asian Weever ants. Leafcutter ants can lift and carry leaves with a weight 50 times their body mass.

Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants, such as Camponotus species, are primarily omnivorous. They feed on a variety of foods, including insects, honeydew, nectar, and plant sap. However, they are also capable of causing significant damage to wooden structures as they excavate galleries for their nests.

Ghost ants

Ghost ants, Tapinoma melanocephalum, are small ants known for their pale colouration and elusive behaviour. They have a diverse diet, feeding on sweets, fruits, insects, and even other ant species. Ghost ants are often attracted to sugary substances found in homes, making them a common household pest.

Pavement ants

Pavement ants, Tetramorium caespitum, are opportunistic feeders that consume a wide range of foods. They are commonly found foraging on pavements, hence their name. Pavement ants feed on insects, seeds, honeydew, and other organic matter they come across.

Sugar ants

The term "sugar ants" is often used to refer to various ant species that have a preference for sugary substances. While the name is not specific to any particular species, ants like the aforementioned black garden ants and Argentine ants are commonly associated with this term due to their attraction to sugar-based foods.

Thief ants

Thief ants, Solenopsis Molesta, are small ants that, as their name suggests, are known for stealing food from other ant colonies. They have a broad diet, including honeydew, nectar, insects, and even the brood of other ant species. Thief ants are highly adaptable and can exploit a wide range of food resources.

How to provide a balanced diet for pet ants

If you are an ant enthusiast and keep ants as pets, it's important to provide them with a balanced diet to ensure their health and well-being. The diet of pet ants should mimic their natural feeding habits as closely as possible. Here are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Variety is key: Offer a diverse range of food sources to mimic the ants' natural foraging behaviour. This can include sugary substances like organic honey or sugar water, protein sources such as small insects or tuna fish, and even plant matter like fruits (grapes, banana etc.) or mites-free organic seed mix for the harvester ants.

  2. Avoid toxic foods: Some human foods can be toxic to ants. Avoid feeding them anything that contains chemicals or artificial sweeteners. Stick to natural food sources to ensure the safety of your ant colony.

  3. Observe their preferences: Different ant species may have specific preferences when it comes to food. Pay attention to what your ants are most attracted to and adjust their diet accordingly. This will help ensure they receive the nutrients they need. Read more on our Care Sheet Page.

  4. Feed in moderation: It's important not to overfeed or underfeed your ants. Monitor their food consumption and adjust the quantity accordingly. Regularly remove any uneaten food to prevent mould or bacterial growth. The mould is hazardous to all ant species.

Feeding Your Live Ants In An Ant Farm

how to feed live queen ants best ants uk
How to feed ants honey and protein jelly?

Feed them into the outworld only! You should feed them protein-rich food and sweets twice a week. For instance, feed your ants live insects or protein jelly every Monday and Friday. Give them sweets, organic honey or fruit (half a grape, a similar amount of a banana etc.) on Wednesday and Saturday. How much? Well, for a small colony with a queen ant and about fifty workers, the amount of the protein jelly must be similar to the size of a single rice grain. Regarding the live food, feed them mealworms, locusts, crickets or similar and do not forget to kill any possible microbes or mites the live food might be contaminated with.

How? Just put it in boiling water for ten seconds minimum and fifteen seconds maximum, then chop it in half and put it in the ants' outworld using a tiny piece of tinfoil as a tray. Use a small cotton ball to pour a drop or two of the organic honey to prevent ants from getting stuck and drowning. Now, the most important part is always to discard any remaining ant food after 2 days or fungus may appear.

How to feed your ants Organic Honey and Protein Jelly? Video instructions? Click HERE!

Harvester Ants feeding

Harvester ants need mainly seeds so the golden rule is: 1 seed per ant per month. Feed them every two weeks (half dosage, for instance: 30 ants = 15 seeds every two weeks).

The first feeding dose must be doubled. Keep an eye on their food storage so they have one chamber full of seeds all the time.

Live ants and their dietary requirements

For those interested in starting an ant colony from scratch, live ants can be purchased from reputable suppliers. When acquiring live ants, it's crucial to understand their specific dietary requirements. Different ant species may have unique nutritional needs. Research the specific species you plan to keep to ensure you provide the appropriate food sources. Find out more on our Blog Page.

Queen ants and their specialized diet

Queen ants, the reproductive members of the ant colony, have unique dietary requirements. During the founding stage of a colony, the queen ant relies heavily on her fat reserves to survive. After she establishes a nest and begins laying eggs, her diet shifts to a protein-rich regime. This is crucial for the development of healthy larvae and the growth of the colony.

Providing the queen ant with a sufficient supply of protein, such as small insects or specialized ant protein supplements, is essential for her success as a matriarch. The perfect protein-rich food for your Queen Ant is our Protein Jelly.

Did you know that some ants jump while hunting their prey?

Find out more: My Living Ant World

Ant food preferences and adaptations

The diverse diet of ants is not just a matter of personal preference; it also reflects their adaptations to different ecological niches. Ants have evolved specific physiological and behavioural traits to exploit various food sources.

For example, ants that feed on nectar have specialized mouthparts that allow them to access floral resources efficiently. Species that prey on other insects may have strong mandibles and venomous stings to capture and subdue their prey. Did you know that the Messor Structor major worker can chew through almost anything, Leafcutter ants have evolved the ability to cultivate fungus, which provides them with a reliable food source that can be stored and consumed over long periods.

Conclusion: Appreciating the diversity of ant diets

Ants, with their remarkable feeding habits and diverse dietary preferences, are fascinating creatures. From sugar-loving species to those that cultivate fungus or prey on other insects, ants have adapted to exploit a wide range of food sources. Understanding their dietary habits not only provides insights into their behaviour but also helps ant enthusiasts and pet keepers provide a balanced and nutritionally adequate diet for their colonies. By appreciating the diversity of ant diets, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the incredible adaptability and resourcefulness of these tiny but mighty insects.


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