What Do Ants Eat?
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
Did you ever have a parent complain about a mess left behind on the counter, appealing to your reason by stating, “That’s how we’ll get ants!” Well, your parents were right. Most ants commonly found in the United States are attracted to human food, and if you fail to clean up crumbs or drop some sugar on the floor, you could have an infestation on your hands. Of course, ants have a wide palate and don’t have to rely on humans for food — though they’ll certainly appreciate your hospitality. Ants are omnivores, so they’re attracted to meat and plants. This includes a few shrubs that might be in your home right now. Take a look at what makes up an ant’s diet and learn what you should abolish from your counter tops to avoid attracting certain species of these insects.
Some types of ants pursue aphids — small, sap-sucking insects — and other small Hemiptera for their milk. Aphids serve a more fascinating purpose for some ant species, though. Dairying ants raise aphids like cattle, clipping their wings to ensure the aphids can’t fly away. They don’t eat the aphids. Instead, they shelter and milk them for the sugar-rich liquid they produce. This substance is known as honeydew.
Ants love meat, whether it’s a bowl of pulled pork you’ve laid out on a picnic blanket or a cockroach that’s died under your refrigerator. Though all ants will forage and look for food on the ground, different species take unique approaches to finding meat. Some are active hunters who will seek and kill live animals for food, and some look for carcasses. The latter category, similar to animals such as hyenas, search for animals in a state of decay and eat the meat they find there.
Keeping a clean home is key to preventing ants in search of meat from venturing into your personal space. Keep meat secure in your fridge or freezer, and clean up any material that winds up on your countertop while you’re preparing meat. You should also perform regular deep cleans where you move appliances and sweep out any food that’s fallen under your fridge or oven. Do your best to keep dishes from piling up in your sink as well. Meats and sauces stuck to plates will attract ants, too.
Some types of ants are predators who hunt live animals, including other ants. This includes the following species and their preferred foods:
Army ants: The name “army ants” refers to over 200 species that raid mounds to feast on other ants, eggs, and queens. Army ants are found in the southern United States and in Central and South America.
Jumping ants: Also known as “jack jumper ants,” this species — native to Australia — hunts and uses venom to kill other ants, arthropods, crickets, and arachnids.
Trap-jaw ants: Trap-jaw ants are native to subtropical regions. They use their intimidating mandibles to crush and eat live prey.
Peonies, wild parsnips, and desert willows are three types of plants that attract ants. Each of these shrubs produces nectar, so if you have them in your yard or inside your home, they may attract ants. If you want to avoid ants completely, use other plants in your interior and exterior decorations. Some plants, like mint and garlic, will even repel ants and other unwanted insects.
Fruits and Veggies
Ants are attracted to fruits for the same reason they prefer nectar: the sweet taste. Wipe your counters if any citrus spills on them, and note that ants will find plenty to harvest from rinds and peels as well. Ants will also eat vegetables and seeds if given the chance. If you grow fruits or vegetables indoors or keep a garden, talk to a professional about preventive measures to avoid attracting ants.
Leafcutter ants are known for harvesting leaves, but they don’t actually eat the vegetation. Instead, they partially eat the leaves and create farms using the chewed material. This process produces a fungus the ants harvest to feed their colonies. Leafcutter ants are found in Central and South America, so this species isn’t a problem for homes in the United States.
Though ants would jump at the chance to eat egg white or yolk that you spill on the floor, it’s more common for them to eat insect eggs — including the ones their own queen lays. Though not their preferred food source, ants may eat their own eggs in these circumstances:
When a queen begins a new colony, she may eat some of the eggs she lays to sustain herself until the first workers hatch.The queen may also feed her eggs to the first generation of larvae as they grow.If food is ever scarce or the colony is distressed, the queen may eat her own eggs.
All Other Human Food — and Pet Food, Too
Ants aren’t picky eaters. If they enter your home and find food on countertops or uncovered in your cabinets, they'll eat it. They’re capable of breaking down and consuming virtually everything humans can, including animal fat, oil, grains, and sugar. They’ll even help themselves to your pet’s food if given the chance.
Ants have such a wide diet that keeping them out of your home can be difficult. Maintaining a clean kitchen, cleaning up spills promptly, and performing routine deep cleans under appliances will make your home less appealing to these visitors. Also, remember to check doors and windowsills for flies and other insects that have died there. Ants will eat those carcasses, so you should dust or sweep there regularly.
In the event of an infestation or if you want to take some preventive measures to keep ants off your property, seek help from a kaptar specialist in your area.