Ant FAQs


Answers to frequently asked questions about ants.

Ant Behavior

All ants can bite, but most small ants are unable to cause any harm to humans with their bites. Some ants, however, do possess a painful sting and will use it when they feel threatened.

Queen ants of most species able live at least a few years under the right conditions. Worker and soldier ants live anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the species. Male ants only live for a few weeks, then die after mating.

Ants sleep intermittently, taking hundreds of brief naps throughout the day. Fire ant workers sleep 253 times per day, with each nap lasting just 1.1 minutes, for a total of 4 hours and 38 minutes of sleep.

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Ants live dark, moist places, such as underneath stones, in rotting wood, in underground nests, and inside trees. Some army ants are nomadic and build temporary shelters made out of their own bodies, called bivouacs.

Ants can smell by using their antennae to detect odors. An ants sense of smell is very important, as ants use chemical signals, called pheromones, to communicate with each other.

Some ants have a very painful sting, and will use it on humans when they feel threatened. Fire ants are a commonly encountered stinging ant. The bullet ant of Central and South America is infamous for having one of the most painful stings in the world. Other ants, such as carpenter ants, do not sting but can bite and spray formic acid.

Ants communicate through body language, such as a light touch or stroke; through chemical signals, called pheromones; and through sound, by producing vibrations with their gasters, called stridulations.

Ants carry dead ants away from their colony to prevent the spread of disease. Decomposing ants release a warning chemical called oleic acid. When ants detect oleic acid, it alerts them of a dead body and triggers this cleaning behavior, known as necrophoresis.

Male ants and virgin queen ants fly away from their nest to mate and start new ant colonies. Flying away from their home colonies prevents ants from inbreeding and competing with their relatives for nearby food sources.

Some ant species are nocturnal, while others are diurnal. The preferred time of activity can vary greatly, even between closely related ant species.

Ants sleep intermittently, often taking hundreds of brief naps throughout the day. Fire ant workers sleep 253 times per day, with each nap lasting just 1.1 minutes, for a total of 4 hours and 38 minutes of sleep.

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Ant Diet

Most ants are omnivores, meaning they will eat almost any type of food. Worker ants prefer to eat sugar-rich foods such as honey, sugar water, and fruit. Queen ants and ant larvae prefer to eat protein-rich foods such as termites, mealworms, and crickets. However, some species of ants have very specific dietary requirements.

Although some ants can be seen cutting and carrying leaves, ants do not eat the leaves. Leafcutters are fungus-growing ants that chew up leaves and feed it to a fungus in their nest. In return, the fungus produces nutritious fungal growths, called gongylidia, which the ants eat.

Ant Anatomy

Male ants and most virgin queen ants have wings, but worker ants are wingless. Queen ants remove their own wings after mating. Winged ants are called alates, while dewinged ants are called dealates. Queen ants that never develop wings are called ergatoid queens.

Male ants and most virgin queen ants can fly, but worker ants cannot fly. After mating, queen ants remove their wings, losing the ability to fly. Queen ants with short, nonfunctional wings are called brachypterous queens. Queen ants that never develop wings are called ergatoid queens.

Most ants can see but have poor vision, and heavily rely on their sense of smell and touch.

Ants have three pairs of legs, six legs in total. An ant’s legs are connected to the middle part of its body, called the thorax.

Ants have small brains with around 250,000 neurons. Human brains have around 86 billion neurons, making ant brains seem quite simple in comparison. However, some ant species have a brain-to-body mass ratio of 1:7, the highest known ratio of any animal.

Most ants have two compound eyes on the sides of their head. Male ants and queen ants have an additional set of simple eyes, called ocelli, on the top of their head, that assist in flight and navigation.

Ants breathe oxygen using breathing holes on their body called spiracles. Ants can open and close spiracles, to breathe in oxygen or release carbon dioxide, by contracting the surrounding muscles.

Ants have a long, thin, tube-shaped heart that runs from the head to the abdomen. An ant’s heart pumps hemolymph, the ant equivalent of blood, throughout the body.

Although most ants can see, ants generally have poor vision. Some species of ants that spend their whole lives underground have lost their eyes and are completely blind.

Ants do not have lungs, but instead have breathing holes on their body called spiracles. Ants usually have nine or ten pairs of spiracles located on the sides of their body.

Ants have a colorless liquid called hemolymph, the ant equivalent of blood, running through their body. Hemolymph is not red because it does not contain red blood cells.

Ant Classification

Ants are classified as insects because they are six-legged invertebrates belonging to the class Insecta.

A group of ants is called a colony. An ant colony consists of a queen ant, her workers, the developing eggs, larvae, and pupae, and the males and virgin queens that will go off to start their own colonies.

There are more than 14,000 known species of ants. It is estimated that there are at at least 22,000 ant species, leaving more than 8,000 ant species undiscovered or undescribed.

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