Earth Science

What do ants eat?

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Ants at a picnic
Most species of ants are attracted to sweet things - it's the jam on your sandwich and the sugar in your lemonade that are drawing them to your picnic
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Find out what will attract these picnic invaders to your basket.

We've all been invaded by ants at a picnic, but what is it about human food that attracts them? What do ants eat?

First of all, it's hard to generalize about an ant's diet, because there are around 12,000 species of ants worldwide. Ants live on nearly every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. They are social insects, living in highly organized colonies.



Most species of ants are attracted to sweet things, so it's the jam on your sandwich and the sugar in your lemonade that are drawing them to your picnic.

When they aren't eating the sweet stuff we humans leave laying around, they eat the honeydew that other insects leave behind. Honeydew is a sweet substance secreted by aphids as they ingest the juices of plants. Some ant species even 'farm' aphids. The ants will take the aphids back to their ant colony, tend to them and milk them for the honeydew.




Leaf-cutter ants live in tropical and semi-tropical rainforests in South and Central America. They cut leaves and carry them to their underground nests, where they chew the leaves into pulp. The pulp is stored with ant feces. A fungus grows on the decaying plant matter; this is the leaf-cutter ant's diet.

Other Food Sources


Many species of ants will eat the bodies of dead insects that are much larger than they, including caterpillars and grasshoppers. Harvester ants collect, store and eat seeds. The Argentine ant, which is native to Argentina and Brazil but can also be found in the United States, will eat meat, eggs, oil and just about anything else humans leave around.

What do ants eat? They love sweets, but they'll also eat whatever they can find, even if it means 'milking' other insects or growing their own fungus. If you'd like to find out what ants eat on your own, grow your own ant farm and watch the little creatures grow and live right inside a glass box, instead of at your picnic.

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