Ants are omnivores and opportunistic feeders, so they eat whatever they can find. In nature, ants eat honeydew from aphids, other insects, insect eggs, invertebrates, plant sap, and fruits. In houses, ants eat what’s there: pantry items, crumbs, meats, fats/oils, other insects, and even pet food.
Ants can eat pretty much whatever humans can eat, and more.
But every ant species has some foods that they like more than other treats, and some have “farms” where they produce their own food. So, if you’re wondering what ants are eating in your home or what to use to set traps for the ants you do find, then keep reading to find out about these fascinating insects.
Ants eat more of what they need that time of year
Ants eat what they can find, but researchers have discovered that ants may also choose to eat foods based on what they need at that time of year.
For example, in early spring, ants become more active and build new nests to set up colonies.
This is when ants tend to eat more proteins for strength and to feed the queen and her young. Proteins are building blocks, and they encourage the queen(s) to reproduce and the young to grow up big and strong.
Later in spring and in summer, once the colony is established, ants tend to prefer sweets and high carbohydrate foods that give them energy to keep the colony running and carry them through the winter.
Ants either prefer sugar or grease
Ants can be split into two categories based on what foods they like more: ants that prefer sugar and ants that prefer grease.
Most ants are sugar ants.
Ants’ favorite foods are sweet, like honey, maple syrup, jelly, jam, cake, cream, candy, cookies, pastries, donuts, smores, fruit juices, soft drinks, and pure sugar. Experiments have shown that ants will even eat sweeteners and liquid sugar if it’s available. If it’s sweet, ants will eat it.
All of these foods attract ants.
To get rid of sugar ants in your home or yard, try these Terro traps from Amazon, which over 70 000 people have used to get rid of common household ants.
Grease ants prefer meats, fats and oils, but they also feed on seeds, cheese, and other dairy products in people’s home. Outside, they are a danger to other ants – stealing food from ant colonies and eating their young.
The grease ants you see walking around your yard and home are worker ants, and they do all the work for the colony. These ants often have big heads compared to the rest of their bodies. They have such big heads because they need big jaws to crack seeds and break down food for the other ants in the colony.
There is one more type of food that leafcutter ants enjoy in particular: fungus. These ants have their own farms in burrows, where they grow fungus for food.
Ants that farm food
There are some ant species that are farmers, and these ants farm their own food.
In the ant world, there are two types of farmers: those that farm aphids and those that farm fungus. Let’s take a look at how these ant farms work.
Ants that farm aphids
Aphids are small insects that pierce plants and drink the sap inside.
Aphids come in many colors, but most of us will recognize the common white, fluffy aphids that we’ve seen on the underside of plants’ leaves.
When aphids pierce a plant, sap pours into their mouths and through their bodies – coming out their anus as honeydew. Honeydew is rich, sweet, and sticky, and ants love it.
Some ants love it so much that they take care of aphids.
The ants protect the aphids from natural insect predators, like ladybugs. This gives the aphids the freedom to drink sap and excrete lots of honeydew for the ants to eat.
Sometimes the ants will even stroke the aphids’ abdomens with their antennae, to milk more honeydew out of the aphids.
However, there are times when ants will eat their precious aphids. Find out all the reasons why ants eat aphids in this blog post.
Ants that farm fungus
Leafcutter ants and grasscutter ants grow fungus that they feed to their young.
The ants cut small parts off leaves, flowers, and grass, and take the pieces back to their nest. They chew the plant material to make pulp, then spit it out and store it with their excrement. Leafcutter ants do not eat the plant materials they cut.
This mix of pulp and excrement gets a fungus growing, which is exactly what the baby ants love to eat. If you think about it, it isn’t that strange: Humans grow mushrooms to eat, and mushrooms are a fungus.
The ants make sure they continue to feed the fungus, to keep it growing and healthy.
In fact, these ants will collect the materials that they know their fungus enjoys, and stop bringing back things that kill off the fungus or make it grow slower.
Here’s a video from the BBC that shows how a certain type of grass cutting ant grows enough fungus to feed their colony of 5 million ants:
A list of what ants eat
Ants are omnivores and eat just about anything they can find. They are a sort of clean-up crew for the environment, taking care of dead insects and other foods lying around. Some ants keep other ant populations under control by attacking their colonies and eating their eggs and young.
Food is needed to keep ant colonies alive and make them strong enough to find new nesting sites and reproduce. In fact, food is one of the main reasons why ants come into people’s houses. Click here to find out what the other three reasons are.
Below is a list of foods that most ants will eat:
- Ant eggs
- Corn- / maize-based foods
- Crumbs on the floor
- Dead animals
- Dead insects
- Fruit juices
- Honeydew from aphids on plants and in potted plants
- Insect eggs
- Invertebrates (animals without a backbone, such as snails, slugs, worms, flies, etc.)
- Larvae and pupae of ants and insects
- Nectar from flowers
- Oils (sunflower oil, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
- Peanut butter
- Soft drinks
- Sugar and sweet treats (syrup, honey, jellies, cakes and baked goods, etc.)
Ants have adapted their ways to become excellent food finders. Click here to find out how ants track down food so quickly and easily.
What certain types of ants eat
The table below gives a breakdown of some of the most common types of ants, from the USA to the UK and Europe, and what each type of ant likes to eat.
If you know what ants eat, you can remove all food sources so the ants don’t come into your yard or house, and you can use these foods to bait and kill ants if they’re already invading your space.
|TYPE OF ANT
|WHAT THEY EAT
|Other ants’ eggs and young, insects, young birds in nests, frogs, lizards
|Sweet foods, meats, pet food, soft drinks, insects, ants
|Sweet foods, flower nectar, honeydew, fruit juices, other live insects, meat, eggs, fats and oils, dead insects or animals, termites, pet food, [carpenter ants do not eat wood]
|Citronella ants / moisture ants / yellow ants
|Sweet foods, honeydew, insects (dead and alive), seeds, nectar
|Sweet foods, honeydew, fruits, insects, meats, fats and oils, seeds, invertebrates (worms, snails, spiders, etc)
|Sweet foods, honeydew, seeds, meats, fats and oils, live insects, dead insects, termites, worms, spiders, small animals, dead animals
|Sweet foods, honeydew, live insects, dead insects
|Plant sap, fungus that they grow themselves (explained earlier in this post)
|Odorous ants / sugar ant / stink ant / coconut ant
|Sweet foods, honeydew, dead insects, meats, dairy products, baked goods, vegetables
|Pavement ants / sugar ants
|Sweet foods, meats, fats and oils, garbage
|Sweet foods, breads, meats, fats and oils, garbage, insects, pet food, human toiletries such as soap
|Red ants / thatching ants / field ants / wood ants
|Sweet foods, honeydew, scale insects, mealybugs, meats
|Thief ants / grease ants
|Meats, fats and oils, nuts, peanut butter, cheese, dairy products, seeds, the young of other ants, the food collected by other ants (they steal it), dead insects, rodents, will eat sweet foods too