How Ants Find Food Quickly And Easily With Ant Trails

by | Ants, Insects

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If you’re having a BBQ or you drop some food and ants suddenly appear, you’re probably wondering how they found the food so easily. Well, it’s because they have worker ants whose job it is to do just that…

Ants find food so quickly because they send scouts out looking for food. When a scout finds food, it returns to its nest and leaves a pheromone trail with a chemical scent along the way. The scout tells other worker ants about the discovery, and they follow the trail back to collect the food.   

Ants have developed the most amazing tricks to sniff out a food source and get more ants there as quickly as possible, before you clean it up or other ants find it. Understanding these tricks will help you to stop scout ants from bringing in that dreaded row of worker ants, along with a possible infestation.

How ants find food

Photo of ants walking on a donut

Scout ants leave the ant nest to look for food, which they find by smelling with their antennae. Ants can smell up to five times better than other insects, so they find food much quicker and easier than the rest of the insect world.

Here’s how it all works:

Ants live in a nest, in a group called a colony.

Worker ants are female ants that do all the labor in the colony. Each worker ant has a job to do: Some look after the ant queen or the ant babies (larvae and pupae); some build the nest; others act as police officers and defend the nest; and the bigger worker ants go out looking for food and water.

The ants that look for food and water are called “scout ants”. When the right time of day comes, they leave the nest to see what they can find.

You can get a full list of what foods different types of ants eat by reading this post (click to open in a new tab)

Some species of scout ants go out at night, some go out during the day, and others leave the nest at night and during the day. Experts aren’t sure why this is, but they think it has something to do with the temperature of the soil. So, the time of day, the season, and where the ants live all affect their scouting times.

This is why you might see ants at different times of day or not at all (because you’re sleeping).

Ants use their antennae to smell and taste things around them. Their antennae are bent in the middle, much like your knees on your legs. This is unique to ants and it helps them find food.

Closeup photo of a black ant showing the antenna bent in the middle

As the scouts walk around, they move their antennae back and forth to see if they can smell food. Their antennae have little hairs on them with cells called olfactory neurons. These neurons send signals to the ant’s brain, where it can make sense of what the ant is smelling in the air or on the ground.

The hunt is over when the scout ant finds food – it’s time to call worker ants to come and collect the treats!

Food is one of the four reasons why ants come into your home. Find out what the other three reasons are by clicking here.

Here’s a great video that shows how ants follow pheromone trails based on a very interesting experiment:

What is an ant trail?

An ant trail is a path of chemical pheromones that scout ants leave on the ground. The scout ant and other worker ants follow the ant trail from their nest to a food source.

You see, when a scout ant finds food, she returns to the ant nest to call worker ants to help her fetch the food.

On her way from the food to the ant nest, the scout releases chemicals called pheromones. These pheromones mark the ground as she walks. The pheromone trail is what we call an ant trail.

Humans cannot see or smell ant trails, but ants definitely can. It’s how they find their way back into your house, your yard, and even your car.

Why ants travel in a line

Worker ants following a scout ant to the food source

Ants travel in a line because they are following the scout ant on the pheromone trail from the nest to the food source. As the ants follow the trail, they release more pheromones, and so the trail line gets stronger and stronger, and easier for the ants to follow between the nest and the food on future trips.

All ants use their antennae to smell their way along the ant trail. They do this by sweeping their antenna from side to side along the ground as they walk.

Ants know that the stronger the smell of the pheromones on the ant trail, the more ants have traveled that path for food. And if there’s a strong pheromone scent, it means that many ants have used that path and there is a very good food source on the other side (like your pantry cupboard).

Click here to find out what ants really do with all the food they collect – I think you might be surprised!

Placing bait traps, like these bait stations from Amazon, is a way to bait ants following an ant trail. Place the baits along the path that you see the ants walking. The ants will take the bait back to the nest, where other ants in the colony eat it. Over time, all the ants that eat the bait are killed, and you should have less or no more problems with ants.

How long an ant pheromone trail lasts

Ant pheromone trails can last anything from 10 minutes to 2 days, depending on the ant species and how much the trail gets used. The more ants that walk along the trail, the more pheromones they leave behind, and the stronger the trail will become and last.

As long as the trail is there, ants will be able to find their way back to the food in your yard or in your house.

I'm Monique. I love gardening and spending time in my backyard growing things. Here's where I share what I know about backyard pests and what to do about them, so you can enjoy your yard too.

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Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.


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