Many insects pose a threat of attack to ants’ habitat and food reserves, which can give rise to anger among ants and make invaders vulnerable to attacks. Ticks are quite smaller insects that are equal in size to ants or slightly larger.
Do Ants Eat Ticks? Ants can eat ticks because they are opportunistic feeders, reduce competition, maintain nest hygiene, and reduce parasitic exposure. Commonly, red wood or fire ants attack them by stinging or biting them if they feel a threat to their mounds.
The relationship between ticks and ants is not still clear, but a few researchers found that ants are responsible for a massive decline in their population.
Why do ants eat ticks?
Ticks can become a food source for ants as they eat almost everything that is readily available to these tiny insects.
These are only 3 to 5 mm long and are equal in size to ants, making it easier for these predatory insects to capture their prey. They cannot deal with large prey alone and attack in groups.
However, almost 1 or 2 ants are sufficient to kill and eat ticks due to their similar body size. They are blood-sucking parasites that attack living organisms and feed on different foods.
It means ants do not kill them to consume the food resources alone but share common habitats. Ticks live under fallen logs or branches, grassy areas, and tall bushes.
Moreover, these insects directly impact the population of ticks because they eat ticks to obtain a large amount of protein.
Accordingly, they control the population of insects in the surrounding areas by consuming a large number of these insects each day. It helps reduce the competition among ants and parasitic ticks.
Ants do not miss an opportunity to capture available prey if they can overpower and get easier control of their bodies. Massive killing of ticks leads to a reduction in parasitic exposure.
Furthermore, ticks are also potential contaminants as they are known to spread diseases like Lyme, rash illness, fever, and many others.
This way, they pose a risk to ants’ survival by spreading infection, so ants kill these tiny insects and make their nests free of contaminants.
So, ants can attack ticks to maintain nest hygiene, reduce competition, control the population, and obtain plenty of proteins from their bodies.
How do ants eat ticks?
A specialized feeding mechanism is present in ants, allowing them to target their prey efficiently and grasp their bodies with natural weapons in their mouths.
This hunting process starts with detecting prey insects when ants use organs like antennae to detect chemical cues. Sometimes, they can encounter ticks accidentally during foraging.
Moreover, their antennae have multiple receptors to detect chemical secretions and feel the touch. Ticks’ body odor and visual appearance allow ants to identify their prey.
Ants reach their prey after detection and capture their bodies with strong jaws or mandibles. These social insects can also attack in groups when it is difficult to deal with prey alone.
Accordingly, a small group of these insects usually surround a tick and restrict its movement, which is followed by stinging behavior to paralyze its prey.
These stinging pests inject venom into the prey body through the stinger and immobilize their prey at one location. They do not eat live prey and wait for it to die.
After that, they carry the dead body of ticks back into their nests by hauling their bodies; otherwise, they break its body into tiny parts to carry small pieces individually.
However, they cannot swallow a tick entirely as they have to shred its body into small parts. The workers are involved in tearing its body for easier consumption and digestion.
It seems an easy task to kill prey to use them as a food source, but it is not real, as ants have to deal with responsive attacks until the prey dies.
What type of ants eat ticks?
Almost 25 to 30 species of ants are occasional predators of ticks, but these prey insects have a great risk of deadly attacks from opossums.
Moreover, these opossums eat around 4000 to 5000 ticks in one season, killing around 85% to 88% of the encountered ticks.
However, a few species of ants also show interest in these tiny creatures and try to make them prey. Fire ant species are more deadly for these tiny creatures and sting their bodies badly.
The insects belonging to Formica species, like European red wood ants or Formica polyctena, attack these insects and get nutrition from their bodies.
Accordingly, fire ants pose a danger for these tiny parasitic arachnids commonly present on a living host. These are ectoparasites and attach externally to their host organisms.
So, red wood ants reach these blood-sucking pests and eat after killing them. This species of ants help remove these deadly insects from living animals and humans by biting or stinging.
In addition, carpenter ants are larger insects that can easily grab ticks and chew their bodies with larger mandibles. Pharaoh ants also feed on a wide variety of insects, including ticks.
Thief and argentine ants are also common predatory insects that add ticks to their diet and seek nutrition from their tiny bodies.
How often do ants attack ticks?
It is observed that ants are not major predators of ticks as these parasitic insects usually live on animals and suck blood for them, while ants have varying habitats.
They are not commonly exposed to each other and live their lifestyle. The frequency of ants attacking these insects usually depends on their species, as only red wood ants are deadly for them.
Other species do not show a visible interest in preying on ticks as they obtain food from different resources. In addition, the prevalence of ticks in their natural habitat also determines the attack rate.
They are more prone to attack by ants if these insects are present in a large number, posing a significant problem to their host in terms of survival.
In addition, frequent encounters can occur if their nests are present in close proximity, resulting in increased exposure and interference in activities.
They have more risks of attack from the species of ants living in grasslands and woody areas as both of these insects come across each other many times a day.
Furthermore, some species of ants are adapted to capture and consume ticks that are part of their regular diet, while others eat them opportunistically.
So, seeing ants attacking ticks and eating their dead bodies is not a common sight because they rarely attack these parasitic creatures when feeling a threat to their survival.