You must have seen ants crawling on the soil, moving through dirty places, and getting inside trash bins, which makes you believe that they are not clean insects.
Are Ants Dirty or Clean? Ants are clean as they keep removing dirt particles from their antennae, thorax, and abdomen using oily saliva, front legs, and formic acid for better communication, increased lifespan, and improved sensing of secretions. It helps prevent the risk of disease, but dirty insects are responsible for carrying diseases and food contamination.
You can see ants rubbing their head with legs as it is a common sight indoors because these insects clean their bodies many times a day.
It is one of their natural behaviors to remove the particles that are nothing but a burden on their tiny bodies that is not desirable for insects to carry without any purpose.
Moreover, it is better for the tiny creatures to remain clean because their dirty bodies can cause damage to insects individually and even the whole colony sometimes.
Why do ants keep themselves clean?
Many people consider ants as dirty insects due to their habitats as the insects keep crawling in contaminated places, resulting in the attachment of dirt particles to their bodies.
However, they are generally clean insects because they do not keep their bodies dirty for long, as it affects their health and communication.
They have glands in the abdominal region or hindgut that release pheromone trails for better coordination, but they cannot efficiently release and detect the signals with dirty bodies.
The presence of dirt particles on the antennae can interfere with their ability to detect odors, so they have to keep these smelling organs clean.
Moreover, this cleaning practice in insects helps avoid the risk of infection as harmful bacteria and germs can accumulate over their bodies when they pass through contaminated surfaces.
Accordingly, clean insects have a lower risk of infection, ultimately increasing their lifespan as the contaminating or infectious agents can cause disease.
They have to keep themselves free of debris to improve their navigation abilities, as their compound eyes, touch or smell receptors, and stinging organs can hide behind dirt particles.
These tiny insects do not feel comfortable with dirt particles on their bodies as it feels like a burden to carry useless things or dirt on their bodies.
Furthermore, they have to carry food particles on their back or within a mouth, so these dirt particles or germs can affect their weight-carrying capabilities and contaminate food.
How do ants keep themselves clean?
Ants follow different ways to clean their bodies, including physical methods and chemical methods involving the use of body parts and chemical secretions to clean themselves.
The physical method involves using front legs or antennae to clean their dirty bodies and the removal of the dirt or debris attached to their exoskeleton or other body parts.
Their front legs have hairy claws that can help remove the coarse particles of dirt when they bring their legs closer to their head or rub the dirty regions of their bodies.
It allows the removal of bigger particles, followed by fine dirt particles using their adhesive feet. In addition, the chemical method involves the use of oily saliva in their mouth.
These insects secrete oily saliva from their mouth to disinfect their bodies against fungal spores and bacterial contaminants. It helps wipe out the bodies of infected and wounded members.
Their behavior of disinfecting the wounds of injured nest mates helps increase the lifespan of injured insects because it reduces the risk of infection within wounds.
Furthermore, formic acid is a toxic material produced by the abdominal glands or poison glands, but it also works like a disinfecting substance.
It can help disinfect the insects involved in grooming, as the nursing ants can also get infected when they apply saliva on their bodies to avoid the risk of infection.
Where do ants get their dirt from?
Ants can reach every possible spot outdoors and inside the house as their small body size favors their entries through smaller spaces. They can climb plants in the garden and get flowers for nectar.
Accordingly, the sticky pollens can attach to their bodies, which can be good to some extent as they can become unintentional pollinators.
In addition, they can receive germs on the body while passing through a floor or ground with poor sanitary conditions.
They can reach trash bins for food and carry contaminating agents or microbes on their bodies.
These harmful microbes can affect their health or cause an infection leading to the death of insects. They also reach kitchen sinks to get food from the dirty dishes left unwashed.
This way, the food particles can adhere to their tiny bodies when they crawl through food leftovers and make them feel an irritation.
In the same way, they can get inside pantries, kitchen cabinets, bathroom floors, sinks, and bathtubs and get dirty due to their sneaking behavior.
These insects are naturally present in soil or wet places, and the dirt particles can adhere to their bodies. So, they can get dirty easily due to their natural habitat and sneaking behavior.
What type of ants can clean their colony?
Almost all species of ants can get dirty, but a particular colony caste is usually responsible for transferring microbes, germs, and dirt particles to the colony.
Most commonly, the workers are dirty insects in a colony as they leave nests and visit different areas in their territory or outside the nests to collect food.
The queens and males usually live inside the colony and receive only dirt particles from their nests. However, there are nursing ants in the colony that are responsible for feeding and cleaning.
Moreover, these nursing ants use their front legs to remove the particles from the bodies of nest members. The workers can help remove the debris by licking the bodies of each other.
Their saliva has disinfecting properties that can help kill the contaminating agents or microorganisms attached to their abdomen, head, or thorax.
Subsequently, this behavior is common in every species because it is not possible for them to perform functions and live a longer life with dirty bodies.
Furthermore, physical and chemical cleaning is observed among argentine, pavement, pharaoh, odorous house, and red fire ants, in addition to many other species.
Can ants cause food contamination?
Ants can be responsible for contaminating food because they can accumulate debris or harmful microbes while navigating their territories.
They can also carry these contaminating agents to the food trays when they enter the kitchen and climb the countertop to access the food.
Some of these insects harbor fungi by providing a suitable medium for growth and transferring the fungal spores to human food.
They can transfer bacterial pathogens to food, like Salmonella, Shigella, and E.coli, which are usually responsible for foodborne diseases in humans.
In addition, these insects can also get sick when they remain dirty, so they clean themselves to remain healthy and keep harmful microbes away from them.
They can also carry parasites because these insects serve as host organisms for the parasitic nematodes and die.
Accordingly, they can be responsible for carrying infectious diseases and transferring them to humans by contaminating their food.
So, ants prefer to stay clean and keep licking their bodies to get rid of pathogenic organisms, but they can get dirty and are responsible for food contamination.