11 Interesting Facts About Ants

Discover why ants are nature's foraging and social-networking phenoms. Here are some fascinating and fun facts about ants.

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Did you know that some ants are farmers while others drink the blood of their victims like Dracula? And that ants have been raiding picnics since the Cretaceous period, 130 million years ago? Get the lowdown on ants, from how they communicate to what they eat to how they got their name.

11 Facts About Ants That May Surprise You

What Is an Ant?

An ant is classified as a terrestrial arthropod — an invertebrate insect with exoskeletons and jointed appendages belonging to the Formicidae family. Unique in their anatomical structure, ants are distinguishable from other bugs by their large heads, elbowed antennae and powerful jaws.

Why Are They Called Ants?

The ant got its moniker from a derivative of the Old English word æmette — eventually shortened to the Middle English version, ampte — which, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, means “the biter-off.”

How Many Species of Ants Are There?

There are between 12,000 and 22,000 classified species of ants worldwide. From common field ants to exotic Yellow crazy ants, it’s mind-blowing to think that a single colony can house upwards of 250,000 members. Highly organized supercolonies are known to amass interconnected nests that span 2,500 miles. One in particular stretches from Spain to Italy.

Where Do Ants Live?

Ants live on every continent except for Antarctica and a few remote islands. Almost half of the world’s ant population lives in tropical rainforests, yet they also can be found in arid sub-Saharan Africa. This interactive online map, created by biology professors Benoit Guénard and Evan Economo, pinpoints where in the world your favorite ant resides. According to Guenard, “Work on the map is ongoing with new species of ants discovered frequently.”

What Do Ants Eat?

Generally, ants love human food, especially sugary morsels — but you already knew that! What you might not know is that some ants raise aphids so they can milk them for their sweet liquid called honeydew. Did you also know that ants have two stomachs — one for eating and one for sharing with their friends? Gluttons!

How Strong Are Ants?

Superhuman strong! According to a study by The Ohio State University College of Engineering, ants are capable of supporting 5,000 times their body weight. That would be like you or me bench-pressing 150 minivans. An ant’s power is attributed to its strong neck and lightweight body which requires little energy to carry around, leaving its muscles free to do the heavy lifting.

How Do Ants Communicate With Each Other?

Ants communicate with each other through pheromones, sounds and touch. Pheromones are chemical signals that can be picked up by the ants’ paired antennae. Scents can sound the alarm if danger’s afoot or dinner is on the table!

Can Ants Smell?

Without a sense of smell, ants couldn’t survive and thrive. When they’re out foraging for sustenance, they leave a pheromone trail (see above) that works like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, helping them find their way back to the colony.

Can Ants Fly?

Yes, but only during mating. Flying ants are referred to as alates, which consist only of ants that can reproduce. Worker ants are always female and sterile. Drones are male, charged with the job of impregnating the queen. Once her “Royal Highness” is expecting, she sheds her wings and eats them as a snack.

What Eats Ants?

Beside anteaters, other natural predators to ants include a host of insects, such as certain butterflies, flies, wasps, moths, beetles and sometimes other ants. But did you know that in Colombia, fertilized queen Leafcutter ants are served brined and toasted? Also considered a delicacy in Thailand, sautéed red ants and their eggs make a delicious side dish.

What Repels Ants?

Strong odors that mask scent trails, such as citrus, vinegar, pepper and coffee, leave ants confused and unable to find their way back to the nest. Keep in mind that repellants are a temporary fix. In some cases they disrupt the colony to the point that it splits, making your ant infestation worse.

What Kills Ants?

There are lots of homemade and store-bought products that kill ants. The best solutions, such as borax, cornmeal mixed with boric acid and ant bait stations, are simple to use. They not only kill the ants you see but get back to the queen, which eliminates the entire colony.

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.