27 Surprising Ant Facts They Didn’t Teach You in School

You walk into the kitchen to grab a snack, and out of the corner of your eye, you see them – a trail of ants marching in to sneak off with every last crumb on your countertops. Okay ants, if you want a fight, you’ve got one. But to win the war, you need to find out everything you can about these pests.

We answer your most pressing questions about ants, so you can get the facts – and get them out of your home for good.

Are Ants Insects?

Are ants animals, or insects? Ants are insects.

Do Ants Bite?

Ant bites on finger

Do ants bite or sting? Yes. Both carpenter and sugar ants (the small black ants that invade your home) can bite if they feel threatened. Thankfully, sugar bites aren’t painful (just a slight sting) and don’t produce any symptoms. Carpenter ant bites, though, can be quite painful.

Red ants (a.k.a. fire ants) are a completely different story. These guys will bite and sting. They even attack small animals and have been known to kill them. Fire ants bite their victim just to grab onto them, and then sting them. The stinger injects a toxic venom known as Solenopsin.

Do Ants Have Brains?

Yes, they do – but they’re very tiny. To put it into perspective, ants have 250,000 brain cells. Humans have a whopping 10 million. Collectively, an entire colony of ants has the same size brain as a single human.

But ants still use their small brains very wisely.

Researchers at Arizona State University found one species of ants actually sends out scouts to look for new homes. The scouts report back to the colony, and the colony votes on whether or not to move there. Even ants can be democratic.

Scouts go out looking for homes, and if they find something they like, they send out a pheromone message, essentially telling others to “follow me.” Another ant joins the scout to check out the place as part of what researchers call tandem running. Basically, the scout ant acts like a realtor, showing the other ant the new place.

Each ant that follows sends out another message if they approve of the home. Eventually, all of the remaining colony members follow if enough scouts vote in favor of the location.

Ants may not have large brains, but they succeed in doing something most humans struggle with: working together.

Do Ants Have Eyes?Illustration of ant cartoon on white background.

Yes. In fact, they have compound eyes made from multiple tiny lenses that are all attached together.

Ants are excellent at detecting movement, but they don’t exactly receive a high resolution image of the world around them.

In addition to their compound eyes, ants also have three simple eyes on the top of their head, known as ocelli. These eyes are what detect polarization and light levels.

Ants generally have pretty poor eyesight, and rely on other senses to navigate the world around them.

Some species of ants are completely blind, but have no need for eyesight because they communicate through their antennae.

Then there’s an exception to the rule: Australia’s bulldog ant. These ants have excellent eyesight, and they can discern the size and distance of objects nearly a meter away.

Do Ants Have Wings?A flying ant on green leaves in nature.

Can ants fly? If the thought of flying ants gives you nightmares, you better make like a Freddy Kruger victim and stay up all night – some ants can fly.

The good news is that only queens, reproductive ants and males have wings. Queens lose their wings after their nuptial flight (more on that shortly).

Winged male ants are called drones, and they typically emerge with winged breeding females.

When ants are ready to reproduce, the females, reproductive ants and winged males leave the colony for their nuptial flight. The nuptial flight usually takes place in late spring or early summer.

Once a female has mated, she will seek a place to start a new colony and lose her wings. It’s believed that queen ants grow wings because it allows them to start their own colony far from their home colony – a good way to prevent competition. It also keeps female ants from mating with relatives.

Do Ants Feel Pain?

Can ants feel pain? Scientists say “no,” but we’re still waiting on the ants to give us a definitive answer.

Insects don’t have “nociceptors,” which are responsible for giving us humans feelings of pain. These receptors detect uncomfortable stimulus, like hot and cold, once they’re reached a certain threshold.

Ants don’t have nociceptors. But researchers are still unsure of whether ants (and other insects) have emotions.

Do Ants Have Hearts?

Yes, but it’s not like the human heart.

Ants, and insects in general, do not have a vein system or arteries. They have an open circular system, and their “heart” looks like an elongated tube.

Haemolymph is the ant equivalent of blood. It’s what transports nutrients, hormones and metabolic products. The ant’s heart is what circulates the haemolymph. The heart is more like an arteria and is surrounded by a few small muscles.

Do Ants Poop?

Yes. And they’re quite picky about where they go. One team of researchers studied the pooping patterns of ants (Who wants that job? Anyone?), and found that ants prefer to do their business in certain corners of the nest.

To perform the experiment, the group made 21 mini-nests of around 300 ants. The ants were fed sugar water, some colored red and others blue. The colors helped researchers determine where the waste was going. To their surprise, they found patches of vibrant blue or red in certain areas of the nests.

Ants toss all other waste outside of their nest, but researchers are still unsure of why they don’t do their business outside of the nest, too. Some speculate that they may be “mining” the waste for nutrients to feed larvae (who’s hungry?)

Are Ants Blind?

Can ants see? We know that ants have eyes (both compound and simple), and we know that they can see. But some ants are blind. Others have excellent sight, like the bulldog ant we talked about earlier.

But most of the ants you come in contact with have poor eyesight. They rely on other senses to move through their environment and communicate with their colony mates.

Can Ants Swim?

Ant near water
Source: https://www.reference.com

Can ants drown, or do they know how to swim? That depends on the species. To learn more about swimming insects, a group of researchers took 35 different species of tropical forest ants, and dropped them into water.

Some swam like champions – the Odontomachus bauri was one of them. Others – not so much. But all in all, more than half of the ants could swim. The Gigantiops destructor could swim at an impressive 16cm per second.

Earlier research from the 1800s suggests that ants can survive under water for long periods of time. In other words, ants can hold their breath.

Interestingly, pitcher plant ants can swim incredibly well. The pitcher plant lures insects into its pitcher, which looks like a jar. The insects decompose in the digestive juices of the plant, which is transformed into food for the plant.

But the pitcher ant can swim through the liquid unharmed. In fact, these ants work together to pull other dead insects out of the juices as food for their colony (yum!). Researchers say the ants are actually doing the plant a favor, as too many dead insects can rot the liquid and damage the plant.

Fire ants are unique, too. They create floating rafts of living ants by linking their legs together, which allows them to move from one place to another when their home is flooded.

Do Ants Have Lungs?

Do ants breathe? Yes, but not in the same way we do – and they don’t have lungs. Remember, ants don’t have a veins or arteries, so they don’t take in oxygen in the same way we do.

Ants take in oxygen through tiny holes all over their bodies. Carbon dioxide also leaves through these holes.

Do Ants Hibernate?

Have you ever noticed that ants seem to disappear when winter comes? That’s because, like humans, ants wrap up their outdoor lifestyles and settle in for the winter.

Ants overwinter, or wait out the winter, like many other insects.

When cold air moves in, an ant’s body temperature plummets, which drastically reduces their movement. To prevent this from happening, ants seek out a warm place to ride out the winter, preferably under rocks, deep in the soil or underneath tree bark.

Like most other things, ants hunker down together as a community – literally. They form large clusters to help maintain their body heat, and huddle close to the queen to protect her.

During this time, ant traffic comes to a halt, and the door to their nests remain firmly shut. Once the weather warms up, ants become active again, and open the door to their nest.

How do ants survive the winter without hunting for food? They eat a lot of food in the fall to fatten up, so they can make it through the winter. In the winter, ants go into a dormant stage, feeding off of the stored fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Can Ants Smell?

Yes. Ants have an incredible sense of smell. In fact, a team of researchers found that ants have four to five times the amount of odor receptors than other insects.

According to their research, ants have 400 distinct odor receptors, meaning that each one is capable of detecting a different scent. By comparison, honey bees have 174, mosquitos have up to 158 and fruit flies have 61.

Ants use their sense of smell to determine how to behave toward one another, amongst many other things. For instance, the queen ant emits a number of cocktail of different body odors. The rest of the colony can smell this “cocktail,” which compels them to obey her. In this case, the smells can be used as a mind control of sorts.

Do Ants Lay Eggs?Ant queen with workers and eggs.

Yes – but only queen ants. Queen ants are the founders of each ant colony. Once they mate, a queen ant can stay fertilized for several years, and lay millions of eggs.

In fact, some queens are capable of laying thousands of eggs in a single day.

Queen ants live longer than any other type of insect, with their lifespan ranging from 1-30 years.

Once a queen ant is ready to lay her eggs, she’ll need to find a suitable site for her nest. The queen lives only on the fat she has stored in her body and the moisture in her environment. Many queens wind up eating their own wings as a source of protein.

Queens remain with the nest until their first generation of workers are born and can forage for food.

Any eggs that are unfertilized will turn into male drone ants.

Do Ants Have Blood?

Sort of. Ants circulate a colorless liquid known as haemolymph. This liquid contains only 10% blood cells, and the rest is plasma. Haemolymph is responsible for transporting hormones, metabolic products and nutrients.

Do Ants Drink Water?

Yes. Just like humans, and nearly all other living creatures, ants need water to survive. And they can get it from a variety of sources, including their food.

Certain types of ants, like weavers and leafcutters, can extract moisture from the sap of plants. Other ants tend aphids for liquid honeydew.

But ants have also been known to use certain tools to help them gather a large amount of water or sweet liquids. Harvester ants, for example, will throw sand into liquid food, and bring it back to their nest. Other types of ants use plant parts to absorb water like a sponge and transport it back to the colony.

The Diacamma ant decorates its nest with features, which collect morning dew that ants can absorb.

Like most other things ants do, workers drink water and they find ways to bring that water back to share with their colony mates.

Do Ants Carry Diseases?

Theoretically, ants can contaminate food and spread germs to pets or humans. And that’s because they are capable of carrying bacteria. Researchers have found Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, Streptococcus and Staphylcoccus on some ant species, particularly those in developing countries.

But for the most part, you never have to worry about getting sick because a colony of ants invaded your home.

Nevertheless, there’s still a risk of ants contaminating your food, so it’s best to stop an infestation as soon as possible to prevent this from happening.

What Do Ants Eat?Ants tearing their prey apart on the ground. 

Ants aren’t picky eaters – by any means. Some say they have the most diverse diet in all of the animal kingdom. But considering there are more than 12,000 species of ants, it’s really no surprise that, collectively, their diets are so diverse. And some species do have limited diets.

But ants are an omnivorous species, which means they eat pretty much everything humans eat. Ants have been known to eat:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Sugar
  • Herbs
  • Oils
  • Nuts
  • Juice

Their diets generally include four main “food groups”: proteins, sugars, seeds and grains, and vegetables.

Some ants are cannibalistic and will eat other ants, too. Army ants are known for eating the eggs of other ants.

Do Ants Eat Termites?

Some do. In fact, there are six species of ants that hunt and eat termites, including carpenter ants.

Are Ants Decomposers?

Yes, in a way. Ants act like decomposers by eating organic waste as well as dead animals and insects. And as unpleasant as that sounds, ants actually help to make the world a cleaner, healthier place in this way.

Carpenter ants accelerate the decomposition of timber wood. They build their nests in diseased or dead wood, and once they leave, bacteria and fungi grow to break down the wood even further.

Do Ants Eat Wood?

Ants will eat just about anything, but they aren’t known for eating wood. Many people assume carpenter ants eat wood, but they don’t. Carpenter ants burrow into wood to make nests, but never actually feast on the wood itself.

Do Ants Fart?

Ants poop, but can they fart? There’s little research on this topic, but many experts say “no” – at least not in the same way we do.

It makes sense that ants can’t pass gas. Some of the most effective ant killers cause them to bloat up and because they have no way to pass the gas, they explode – literally.

Are Ants Nocturnal?

Not necessarily. Carpenter ants are mostly nocturnal, but sugar ants (the kind that invade homes) can be found out and about during the day, too – although the worker ants are mostly nocturnal.

Do Ants Have Teeth?

Yes. Most ants do have teeth, and larger ants have more teeth than smaller ones. But their teeth are made mostly of the same stuff as their exoskeletons. Essentially, ant teeth are an extension of their mandibles.

How Do Ants Communicate?

Ants communicate in a variety of different ways, including pheromones (smells), touch and sounds. Ants are exceptionally skilled at using chemical signals to communicate with one another.

How do ants pick up on smells? Through their antennae.

Can Ants Jump?

Group of ants on white background
Source: http://www.express.co.uk/

Some can. Trap-jaw ants have huge (in ant terms) mandibles that are capable of opening and closing very quickly – hence the name. And when we say very quickly, we mean at speeds of 130 mph. That’s 300 times greater than the ant’s own body weight.

Trap-jaw ants use this ability to escape from danger. They snap their jaws shut on the ground, and launch themselves backward.

Four other species of ants can also jump, but what’s interesting is that these ants are not closely related. This means they each evolved separately to develop this ability. And those that can jump forward actually use their legs to propel themselves – something trap-jaw ants don’t do.

Are Ants Poisonous?

Many ant species have poison sacks and stingers to defend themselves against predators. And while fire ants and other ants may bite humans, they are typically not poisonous in the same sense as a venomous snake.

The Australian bulldog ant, however, holds the Guinness World Record of being the most dangerous ant. It attacks using its jaws and stinger simultaneously. Since 1936, these ants have killed at least three humans.

Bulldog ants are incredibly aggressive and vicious, showing no fear of humans. They’ll continuously sting and bite in succession, each time injecting more venom. There have been occasions where their sting has killed adults within 15 minutes.

Read more about Fire Ants Bite

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