Many people wonder about ants’ potential to eat fingernails when they see them crawling on their hands or feet.
Do Ants Eat Fingernails? Ants do not eat fingernails because they are made of keratin, which is hard to chew. However, they get attracted due to the presence of fungus, dead skin cells, or food particles. The odor of nail polish and personal care products can also attract them. These ants also steal nail clippings to grow fungi and eat them for nutrition.
It does not mean ants are interested in chewing the nails when you see them crawling on your hand because some other organic substance can also draw them.
Can ants eat or digest fingernails?
Ants can chew almost everything from soft rubber to hard concrete as they have sharp tiny mandibles coated with zinc particles that can efficiently cut through hard materials.
However, it does not mean that they can eat fingernails, as it is not common to see these insects chewing the fingernails because they are made of keratin.
This protein is commonly present in the nails and hair, but the nails usually have a harder form of keratin than hair because it contains higher cysteine content.
It is challenging for ants to chew and break the insoluble fibrous protein, but some insects, like beetles and moths, can break the keratin and extract nutrients from it.
In addition, it is not easy for these tiny creatures to digest them because their digestive system cannot break down complex molecules and works only for simpler foods.
These insects do not make much effort when they have better alternative options to fulfill their body energy requirements, so they avoid eating nails.
However, they get attracted to fingernails in a few situations when they find organic material to eat effortlessly, like dead skin cells and the remains of the foodstuff.
Why do ants like fingernails?
Ants like fingernails for various reasons. These tiny creatures choose easy-to-chew foods and prefer liquid material or soft solids to eat.
Presence of foodstuff
Some people do not wash their hands after eating food so the food particles can get stuck under their nails or mainly in the subungual region.
Moreover, these food particles can grab the attention of insects because their smell receptors are pretty strong to detect the food and reach there in no time.
Most commonly, it occurs in the case of children when they eat chocolate, popsicles, or other sweet things and sleep without cleaning the stuff from their hands.
Accordingly, these insects can reach fingernails and chew the stuff off their nails without bothering the keratin material. So, you can avoid ants attacks by keeping your hands clean.
Fungal infections are common in finger nails or particularly the toenails when a person comes in direct contact with another person having such infections on their foot.
Some species are known to get attracted to fungus as it provides nutrients to these tiny creatures by breaking the tough keratin.
So, you can find these insects on the fingernails when there is a fungal or bacterial infection in the subungual region, as this region harbors germs.
Smell of nail polish
Ants get attracted to fingernails due to nail polish as they like its pleasing odor. However, nail polishes have a strong odor due to acetone and toluene, as these chemicals give off a particular odor.
In addition, some species naturally produce an odor that smells like nail polish as their pheromone chemicals give off a particular odor.
The odorous house ants smell like nail polish. The odor becomes prominent when you get closer to their colonies because a single insect cannot produce enough odor molecules to get detected.
So, these insects can get attracted to your fingernails when they are coated with fresh paint because their smell mimics their trails.
Dead skin cells
Dead skin cells around nails can become a source of ants’ attraction as these insects like to eat them. These cells accumulate under the fingernails or hard nail plates made of keratin.
You can avoid the accumulation of dead skin cells by cutting off the dead skin using a clipper. It can help cut off the food source for these insects and reduce the chances of the attacks.
However, it is better to know that there is no need to remove the upper cuticle as it protects the nail plate and helps avoid bacterial or fungal infections.
Odor of personal care products
Many people use personal care products before sleeping when they remove makeup and apply moisturizing lotions and creams on their hands and faces.
The pleasant odor of body lotions, perfumes, and even soaps or facewashes can attract the attention of these nuisance pests and make them reach your fingernails.
Applying some insecticidal lotions on the skin becomes essential if there is a risk of attack due to the infestation of these insects at your home.
Use nail clippings to grow fungus
You must have seen some tiny ants carrying the nail clippings in their mouth or hauling it collectively. They seem to be taking it back to their colony to extract nutrients.
However, these insects use clippings as a substrate to grow fungi commonly used for nutritional purposes. The Attini ants are known to cultivate fungus on leaves and even clippings.
Only fungi have the potential to degrade the keratin material by releasing specific enzymes, so they degrade tough protein and make nutrients available to insects.
In addition, these insects also consume fungi for nutrition and promote their growth by providing a suitable medium for growth.
What type of ants are attracted to fingernails?
Most commonly, ants choose sweet food items for nutrition, preferably a sweet juice like nectar, honeydew, and plant secretions.
They can eat sugar granules and extract nutrients from fruits, but they also need protein. Accordingly, they get proteins from the bodies of dead insects and animals.
Fingernails contain a compact form of keratin protein that can fulfill their protein needs, but it is difficult for these tiny insects to break the tough structure.
Accordingly, you can see common household insects like sugar, pavement, pharaoh, and carpenter ants looking for the dead bugs in the house to get proteins.
However, all of these insects, including odorous house ants, can reach there in search of food particles and after a pleasing aroma.
Furthermore, the insects belonging to the Attini tribe also seem interested in the clippings and take them back to their nest to grow fungus over this substrate.
Why are ants attracted to toilet paper?