If you give an ant a cookie, it will eat it.
If you give an ant a dead insect, it might eat that too.
Honestly, if you let ants near your home, they will eat just about anything edible in your house!
Here are some points of identification for ants, as well as the most common species you might encounter in the United States.
Basic Ant Biology
Ants live in colonies of thousands of individuals centered around or several queens.
They are divided into several castes of workers, soldiers, and drones which look different from one another. Another notable characteristic is that most of the ants you see are actually female.
Male ants are rarer and do not fulfill many functions within the colony besides reproduction.
To give you an idea of how powerful ants can be, here's a video of ants eating a dead gecko. I would consider the type of ants that have a taste of gecko to probably be "protein ants".
Keep reading to learn more!
So, what do ants look like?
Ants are insects, which means they have a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. Their bodies remain divided into these three sections, and they also have a pair of large antennae attached to their head.
Most species are smaller than 1/2 an inch, and many are even tinier than 1/4 of an inch. Some have wings but do not fly far.
They range in color from black to brown to red to yellow to white. Ants have compound eyes and mandibles designed to crush and chew food.
They often live in mounds they create out of dirt, but can also live in wood and around homes. The workers carry food back to the nests to be enjoyed by the others.
What Are The Types of Ants?
There are over 1,000 species of ants in the United States. The types vary be geography and climate, but can cause similar problems for home and business owners.
Some are known for interrupting picnics, but others cause serious problems by invading buildings and destroying wooden structures.
Here's a basic guide on the most common ants you might encounter.
- Acrobat Ant: Acrobat ants live throughout the United States and were named because of the weird way the workers curve their abdomens. They like to infest wood and can be found in door and window frames, structures damaged by carpenter ants, or decaying tree stumps. They eat honeydew, not wood.
- Carpenter Ant: Whether you live in a palace, a matchbox, or a regular house, you might fear the carpenter ant. They burrow into the wood of homes and other buildings and form large colonies Surprisingly, they actually don't eat wood and will look for proteins and sugars instead. Some of their common foods are dead insects, honeydew, and the jam from your fridge.
- Cornfield Ant: You are not safe from cornfield ants if you live in the city! Cornfield ants were named because they eat the young of corn aphids and are found around cornfields. They can also invade homes in search of sugars from fruit, jellies, bread, and other human edibles.
- Little Black Ant: When you think of house ants, you probably think of this small pest. Little black ants are also called the common house ant and live in most of the environments around the United States. They can eat just about anything, including sugars, meat, vegetables, honeydew from plants, and other insects!
- Pavement Ant: This is another type of ant with a self-explanatory name. Pavement ants are a sluggish species which live in and around sidewalks. During the cooler winter months, they congregate in and near houses for heat, and they eat a lot of standard food indoors. Like other ants, they seek out sugars and proteins and eat human food as well as other insects.
What Do Ants Eat?
Because there are so many species of ants, they actually eat a variety of foods, but the majority of ant's diet preferences can be grouped up into two main categories.
- Sugar Rich Foods: Most ants fall into this category loving the sweet succulent taste of sugar rich food. The sugar itself can come from pretty much any normal house hold food item.
- Protein Rich Food: Proteins in foods like peanut butter will attract ants in droves. Other types of protein foods are usually other bugs! A common "protein ant" most homeowners have come into contact with are fire ants!
The sugars that ants like to feed on can be found in plants or many standard foods in your pantry like bread, cereals, candy, peanut butter, and jam.
In contrast, the proteins can come from your food if its left on the counter, like ground meat and chicken. However, an ant's main source of protein are dead insects and even other ants!
Honeydew is a sugar-packed liquids produced by aphids when they digest leaves. It can leak down tree trunks or plant stems and can be collected from the ground.
Some aphid populations even form symbiotic populations with ants and trade honeydew production for protection from larger predators.
If you have an ant problem and you're not sure what the diet preference is for the ants in your house, then a common trick is to layout two different baits.
One bait is a plate with penut butter (protein bait) and the other bait is a plate with jelly (sugar bait). Sit them both down and check to see, which your ants go after.
You should see a definite preference over one or the other. Depending on which they choose, you'll want to pick up a gel bait for sugar ants and a granule type bait for protein favoring ants.
Check out this buying guide if you need help picking!
Do Ants Kill Or Eat Grass?
You might wonder whether your lawn is in danger from these voracious pests. Will they eat your precious grass?
Usually, whenever ants are present, you will find bald or dead patches of grass throughout your yard.
Ants actually don't eat it!
Most grown ants will not eat grass, but they might carry grass seed back to their colonies as food. Ant mounds can also cause the death of grass because they disrupt the system of roots by moving soil and dirt.
If ants remove the seed, then you will be unable to grow new grass.
Do Ants Eat Leaves?
If you have a garden or trees, you might be concerned that ants are eating your leaves. Sometimes you might see black ants scurrying along tree branches and wonder if they need to feast on the leaves to survive. You might even see an ant carrying a leaf!
But, in the United States, ants don't actually eat leaves.
If you live in South America or Mexico, there are 47 different species of leafcutter ants which carry leaves for food, but not in the U.S.
These ants use leaves as the base to grow fungus gardens for nutrition, but they don't actually eat them. Instead, they use the building blocks of the leave's structure to produce a new food source.
Consider it the ant version of human agriculture!
Will Ants Eat Poisoned Bait?
If you have an ant problem, you're in luck!
Ants do eat poison bait and will bring it back to their colonies. They are attracted to its sweet taste, will munch on a little bit, and will then bring it to share with the others.
Most poison baits are slow-acting, so the ants have time to spread it throughout the colony, eventually killing the soldiers, the workers, and even the queen.
Ants And Their Diets, Final Thoughts
Ants will eat almost anything they can find, excluding common items like grass, leaves, and woods. If you are struggling with an ant infestation, the main course of action should be to identify the location of the colony.
Once you do, you can lay poisoned bait or call a professional pest control company to help you fight back before the ants enter your home.
Need help with an ant problem, check out this guide for further reading.