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what seeds do ants eat

Harvester ants farm by planting seeds to eat once they germinate

Tschinkel WR, Kwapich CL (2016), DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166907

They’ve cracked it. Small ants carry home large seeds to eat all the time, but no one knew exactly how they managed to break through the seeds’ tough exterior.

It turns out that Florida harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex badius, have developed a clever farming strategy to do so – they plant seeds, wait for them to germinate and then eat the soft spoils.

Some 18 genera of ants harvest seeds, and colonies of some species can store more than 300,000 seeds in their underground granaries.

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So far, scientists thought that ants must be able to break the seeds open and just ate them as they were. “The reality is a lot more interesting,” says Walter R. Tschinkel at the Florida State University.

“There are many studies of seed choice by forager harvester ants, but none of the authors asked the question of whether the ants can open the seeds,” says Tschinkel. “This may be in part because most of these studies were done on western harvester ants whose deep nests are in hard soil, so the seed chambers are not easily excavated.”

Tschinkel WR, Kwapich CL (2016), DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166907

With his team, Tschinkel excavated and studied approximately 200 P. badius nests and found that the ants mostly open and consume small seeds, which are easier to crack. Foragers collect seeds of all sizes, so this leads to the accumulation of larger seeds, which end up forming 70 per cent of stored seeds by weight.

In a series of lab and field experiments Tschinkel and colleagues showed that P. badius doesn’t seem to be able to open the large seeds unless they have germinated first. Even the caste of ants with large heads and mandibles thought to be specialised for seed opening can’t crack the big seeds.

Germination, on the other hand, splits the tough husk, making the seed contents available as food for the ants. A single large seed may have nutritional value of 15 smaller seeds, so it makes sense to collect it and wait for it to crack open. Seeds from various species germinate at different times, which may give the ants a steady supply of their “crop”.

This is the first example of ants relying on germination to consume large seeds, although some worms seem to do it, too. The only other example of ants farming plants for food is of the Fijian ant Philidris nagasau, which grows Squamellaria plants and harvests their fruit.

The ants’ unusual trick lets them snack on seeds that are too big from them to crack. They just let the seeds crack themselves

What Can Ants Eat? Let’s Find Out

If you enjoy reading this article, why not check out our articles on Can Fire Ants Kill Your Pets? and Are Ant Farms a Bad Idea? Let’s Discuss

Ants are one of the common pests that you may see in your home. The reason for this is your home may contain a lot of things that they are attracted to. Just like any animals or insects, ants have to find a way to eat daily. Looking for food is the number one reason why you may find them in your home.

Table of Contents

What Can Ants Eat?

Ants can eat just about anything! However, they are most attracted to sweet, sugary food. They also eat insects, plants, seeds, and animals.

Do ants eat everything?

There are over a thousand species of ants. However, not all of them eat the same type of food. This article will talk about the way ants eat, what’s their favorite food, and how you can prevent them from chewing away on your diet.

Ant’s Diet and Feeding Habits

Just like any other animals out there, ants have mouths in order for them to eat. They feed by lifting their food into their mandibles and swishing them around to mix them with saliva. Now, ants do not have the ability to deal with solid food.

How ants eat their food?

A full-grown ant does not eat solid food at all. Worker ants are the ones that have two stomachs. The first stomach is located in their midsection, and it’s called the mesosoma. Ants can regurgitate food that’s stored in their belly to feed the colony.

The second stomach is located in their hindquarters, which is called the rostrum. This is where the salivated or liquid food goes to nourish itself. There has been a misconception about the eating habits of ants.

Do ants eat leaves?

People think that ants eat leaves. However, they do not. They take them back to their burrows and chew them into a pulp. Once that’s done, the store the pulp with their feces. The fungus that grows on the stored mass is what they eat. These ants are called the leaf-cutting ants. Leaf cutter ants are fascinating – they are the strongest ant, and ants are very strong! Read more about it in How Strong Are Ants Compared to Humans?

Do ants eat wood?

Carpenter ants, on the other hand, burrow themselves in wood. They do not eat the wood itself, but they do eat termites. If you do see ants swarming on your plants, there is no need to worry. The ants are not feeding your plants of its nectar, but they’re eating the honeydew that is produced by different insects.

Do ants eat Worms?

Ants have a big appetite, it is said that they eat more meat than lions, wolves, and tigers combined. There are species of ants that are carnivorous, and they hunt, kill, and eat prey such as worms and spiders. These ants are called the army ants.

Ants have such a huge appetite when it comes to their food. It’s no wonder they have the capability of lifting fifty times their weight. Aside from that, ants usually leave a trail of smell so that the other ants can follow them to the source of food.

How the ants find food?

You’d be surprised that at first you only see two ants and then with just a blink of an eye, a whole lot of them already showed up. The trail that they leave is called pheromones, which are also known as a chemical scent.

For Example, It is sort of like leaving breadcrumbs in order to find your way home. Once the ant finds its food, it turns around and follows a different pheromone back to its colony. During its travel, the ant would leave more pheromone on the trail, which means that they are reinforcing the path.

When the other ants come across the trail, they will stop their random search for food and follow the pheromone trail directly to the food. Carpenter ants use both pheromone trail and visual memories to find their food.

How ants use pheromones?

On their first trip, they will follow the pheromone trail that is left by other ants. Now, this method of traveling is slow, since the ants have to walk with their antennae to the ground in order to pick up the pheromone smell.

During this trial, the carpenter ants store images of their route in their minds. On later trips, these ants use landmarks and memories of the whole landscape so that they can find their way. They use different landmarks from different sites that they have been in.

Some ants can store many different memories and update ones that are outdated. Pheromones are very important tools for ants. We talk more about how ants use them in Why Do Dead Ants Attract More Ants?

Delectable Food That Attracts Ants in Your Home

You may see these small critters in your home and might be wondering what’s attracting them. Ants are most attracted to sugary, sweet food because it is an essential component for ants to remain active for the colony.

During their hunt for food, they usually look out for honeydews, nectars, and other products that contain sugar content. So, if you have anything sweet in your home, then they will be attracted to it.

What smells are ants attracted to?

Ants detect sugar by using chemosense, just like any other insects. They have the ability to detect chemical substances in their environment. When the chemicals are present, even at the lowest concentration, they can detect the smell by using their olfactory receptors.

The olfactory receptors are small bristles on the insects’ bodies. Ants detect the location of chemicals that are usually found in sweet and sugary food.

How to avoid swarmer ants?

In order to avoid them from swarming your sweet food, it is best to keep them in a place where it is safe. Many types of ants are drawn to jelly, syrup, honey, candy, and other rich sources of sugar. When these foods are spilled, it will just be seconds before the ants come running to your home.

Well stored food will keep your home safe from any ants. House cleaning habits are always the best practice to keep these little critters away from your home.

Are ants attracted to sugar?

Aside from sweet, sugary food, they are attracted to protein and fats. This is essential to their diet, as well. The protein and fats help them grow and avoid the ant colonies to die out. Food products, such as meat and eggs, are high in protein.

They are also attracted to grease and lard, which are everyday things that are found in an individual household. Just like any other animals, ants also need water to live and something to quench their thirst.

Do ants need water?

Any water or moisture in your home will also attract ants. They do not just drink the water, they also bring it back to their colony for future use and for the other ants to enjoy. Once they found out that your home is a good source of water, you can expect them to come back.

Broken pipes, roof leaks, potted plants and even accumulated condensation can all be sources of moisture that can attract ants to your home. One great thing that you can do to avoid any moisture in your home is opening your window, or running a fan in the bathroom. It can help remove any excess moisture that can attract ants.

How do I get rid of Ants permanently?

There are a couple of home remedies that you can do to prevent the ants from infesting your home. Now, if the home remedies do not work, it is best to contact your local pest control.

Yummy Plants and Seeds for Ants

Some ants prefer to eat plants and seeds in their daily lives. They like to eat corn and plant material, like grass and leaves. Ants also eat seeds, grains, and any plant that grows food on it.

Ants do not eat food from the gardens only, but they are also gardeners themselves. As mentioned above, the leafcutter ants use chewed up leaves to grow fungi, which they will eat eventually.

Do ants eat plant seeds?

Ants also eat seeds that you may have in your garden. They usually move them away from the parent plant so that they can have a better chance of survival. The ants do this in two different ways.

Some seeds have caps that contain proteins, oils, and sometimes chemicals that attract ants. The ants will eat the caps, which is also known as the myrmecochorous, and will leave the seed behind.

If the conditions are right, the seeds will grow in the part where ants left them. This is the reason why plants grow in a different area from the original place where you have sowed them. Now, most of the plants that you may have purchased may not have these caps anymore due to shipping and packaging.

Are ants good for plants?

However, losing myrmecochorous does not prevent the plants from growing. The most common way ants disperse seeds is to bring them to their colonies to store and eat. The adult ants usually do this, and they are known as the harvester ants.

Protecting Your Plants and Seeds from Ants

Protecting your plants and seeds from ants are not as hard as you may think. The best techniques that you can do are:

  • Introduce your garden to different insect-repelling plants. The scent of plants such as peppermint, sage, and pennyroyal will help keep the ants away without harming them.
  • Another technique that you can do is mix half a cup of apple jelly with one to two teaspoons of boric acid powder. Place this mixture in a mason jar, seal the mouth of the mason jar with a plastic wrap, and poke holes on top of the plastic with a toothpick.
    • Do the following steps over again and place the mason jars around the perimeter of your garden. The ants will enter the jar in search of sweet food, and they will eventually perish once they consume boric acid.
  • One more technique that you can do is sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the perimeter of your garden. Once the ants walk on the surface of the sharp and fine crystals within the earth, they will not be able to reach your plants.
  • You can also sprinkle some finely ground cinnamon around the plant that is being infested by ants. Ants will not be able to cross the border because of the potent scent that cinnamon has. If you do not have cinnamon at home, you can use chalk or curry powder as a substitute.
  • Lastly, you can apply a garden safe pesticide to the perimeter of the plants according to its instructions. This is also great for preventing an onset infestation of ants and other insects that are dangerous to your plants.
  • We have more information about how ants can damage your plants and garden in What Can Ants Damage?

Little Critters Favorite Insects and Animals

Since ants need protein in their diet, eating other insects and animals is the best way to go. Carpenter ants have the reputation of burrowing into the wood so that they can make their nests. They are just like ordinary ants who loves sweet and sugary food.

Do ants love to eat insects?

However, carpenter ants also love to eat termites that are present in their nests. Another species of ants that loves to eat other insects are the fire ants. Fire ants sting their prey and cut them up into small pieces, which they will eventually bring to their colony for others to eat.

The oils that are present in worms and insects are what attract the fire ants to attack them. This is one of the reasons why oil is often used as a bait for pest control measures that are targeted at fire ants or other similar ant species.

Some ant species are also known to be cannibalistic. An example is when an army of ants invade the nests of other colonies and eat their eggs or even the youngest of the colony. There are times when situations get really bad.

Some of these situations are famine or non-availability of food. Once these situations are present, the queen ant will feed on their offspring.

What do ants do with dead bugs?

Ants are also fond of eating dead animals that they may find in your garden. They would usually help each other to bring the dead animal inside the colony for them to share with the other ants. It can also serve as a preserved meal to eat in the future.

The ability of ants carrying something that is fifty times their size is a great help for them to keep alive during their life cycle.

Conclusion

As we all know, ants are attracted to just about anything! However, their favorite food is sweet and sugary. Some species of ant eat plants, seeds, and other insects. They feed themselves by lifting their food with their mandibles and swishing them around in their saliva. There are also other circumstances where they bring the food to their colony so that the other ants can eat. Aside from sugar, ants also need protein to live, which is why they tend to eat other insects and animals. They even eat other ants when the situation gets out of hand, such as famine or non-availability of food. Ants are such fascinating insects, most notably when they hunt for their food.

If you enjoyed reading this article, why not check out our articles on Do Ants Hibernate in the Winter? Let’s Find Out and What Can Ants Climb? This surprised me!

If you enjoy reading this article, why not check out our articles on Can Fire Ants Kill Your Pets? and Are Ant Farms a Bad Idea? Let's Discuss…