What do ants eat?

Ants (Formicidae) are a family of hymenoptera insects well known for their social behavior. These animals form large colonies in which they cooperate as a single unit. It is a characteristic that has allowed them to take advantage of all available resources and colonize the entire planet..

As we all know, ants spend all day carrying different types of organic matter towards the anthill: leaves, seeds, dead arthropods.… However, many do not eat what they collect, but are farmers or even, ¡livestock! ¿You want to know more? Don't miss this AnimalWised article about what ants eat.

You may also be interested: How do ants communicate? Index
  1. Characteristics of ants
  2. Feeding the ants
  3. Curiosities of ants

Characteristics of ants

To understand what ants eat it is necessary to know them in depth. Therefore, we have gathered its most important characters. These are some of the characteristics of ants:

  • AnatomyYour body is divided into three parts: head, metasoma (thorax), and mesosoma (abdomen). On the head they contain a pair of antennae, compound eyes, and a chewing mouthpiece. Six legs emerge from the thorax and, only in sexed individuals, two pairs of wings.
  • Metamorphosis: When the egg hatches, larvae without legs or head emerge from it, increasing in size and transforming into immobile pupae. They undergo a series of profound changes until they become adults.
  • Anthill: Almost all types of ants form large communities that carry out collective activities. To do this, they build a series of tunnels and rooms, usually in the ground or in trees. There, they take care of the larvae and store food.
  • Castes: in the same anthill there are three types of ants: workers, drones and a single queen. The queen and the drones are dedicated to reproduction, while the workers perform all the tasks of the colony: collection, care of the larvae, cleaning and defense.
  • Pheromones: ants have a complex communication system between animals based on pheromones (hormones). Thanks to them they can, among other things, warn about a danger and mark the way to go to the food. This is why the characteristic rows of ants are due.

Feeding the ants

Responding to what ants eat is not easy, as they are a very diverse group of animals. The ants' diet is based on different types of food depending on the species and the place where they live. Therefore, we are going to see some types of ants according to their diet. They are as follows:

  • Granivorous ants
  • Predatory ants
  • Farmer ants
  • Ants that graze
  • Mutualistic ants

¿What do granivorous ants eat?

Granivorous ants are those that they feed on seeds. To do this, they collect large amounts of this food and transport it long distances to their anthill. Once there, they store the seeds in their barn and protect them from fungi..

All these ants are essential for the dispersal of seeds, since much of the seeds that they bury will sprout and become plants. In this important work participate, among others, many species of the genera Messor Y Goniomma.

Feeding of predatory ants

Many ants are predators, that is, the collector workers are dedicated to hunting insects or other arthropods. Some can even hunt larger animals, such as lizards or small mice. Due to their dangerousness, they usually present the color red as a warning sign for their potential predators, which is known by the name of aposematism. So if you're wondering what fire ants eat, here's the answer.

A good example of carnivorous ants are the subfamilies Ecitoninae and Dorylinae, known as soldier ants. These insects form nomadic groups that move continuously. As they pass, they hunt the small animals they meet. However, they usually alternate their travels with sedentary phases in which the queen lays large amounts of eggs..

¿What do farmer ants eat?

Many species of ants are fungus farmers. They are dedicated to collecting different types of organic matter, especially leaves. In the anthill, other workers chew the leaves to mix them with their saliva and leave them in their "garden ". The objective is grow mushrooms and then eat them.

Some examples of ants that grow mushrooms are the genera Atta Y Acromyrmex, known as leaf cutter ants.

Feeding the ants that graze

Many ants graze other arthropods of the order Homoptera, such as aphids or aphids. They gather them in groups and defend them from their predators in exchange for a very succulent food: the honeydew. These are sugary substances from the sap of plants that aphids expel through the anus.

Some ants, like Camponotus inflatus, they collect leaves full of drops of honey and take them to the anthill. There, the caretaker ants use them to feed other very special workers. These are the "honey pot " ants, whose abdomen is distensible and becomes a kind of pot that they fill with honey. This food is a food reserve for the entire colony.

Image: ca.wikipedia.org

Feeding of mutualistic ants

Finally, to answer what ants eat, we cannot forget about mutualistic ants. These are insects that live inside the spines of some plants, like acaciasAcacia spp.). They provide them with food and shelter in exchange for defending them from herbivorous animals. It is a function that species of the genus fulfill very well Pseudomyrmex.

Among the foods that plants provide to ants are the "Beltian bodies ", small reddish balls that appear at the end of the leaves. In addition, these plants usually offer a nutritious extrafloral nectar that they secrete through the leaves.

Curiosities of ants

Now that we know what ants eat, let's answer some of the most common questions about these eusocial insects. These are just some of the many curiosities of ants.

¿Why are all workers female?

As we already know, queens are dedicated to laying eggs. These can be of two types: fertilized by males (diploid) or unfertilized (haploid). The haploid eggs give rise to male drones or ants, whose sole mission is to fertilize the queen for the production of diploid eggs. These give rise to female ants that can be workers or new queens.

If you have any doubts, you can consult this other article on "How ants reproduce ".

¿What a difference to the worker ants from the queen?

The larvae that will be queens receive a diet very rich in protein, while the workers receive a poorer diet. This disparity in feeding activates or inactivates certain genes, causing differences in larval development. As a result, they will have a different shape and behavior. It is, therefore, an example of epigenetics.

¿Why are there ants with wings??

Only the new queens and drones they have wings. The new queens are winged because they leave the colony to form a new one. Outside they are paired with a drone, also winged, and perform the so-called "nuptial flight ", during which copulation takes place. Afterward, the queen looks for a place to hibernate. Once there, it loses its wings and builds a small anthill in which it lays its eggs. These will give rise to the first workers of the new colony.

¿Why worker ants don't lay eggs?

In some species, workers are born with atrophied ovaries. However, there are species in which sterility is reversible. In these cases, it is the queen who controls the sterility of the workers through the secretion of inhibitory hormones. In fact, workers that are away from the queen's influence for a time may lay unfertilized eggs, giving rise to drones..

¿There may be different types of workers?

Some species have workers of different sizes that fulfill different functions. In these cases, we say that there are subcastes. Usually, the largest are soldiers who defend the colony. The rest can distribute the work between collectors and "housewives ".

In other species all workers are the same. However, there is also a cast at work. It is the youngest ants that are dedicated to the internal workings of the colony, while the older ones go outside to collect..

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