Woodlice are known to eat rotting wood and decaying organic matter, but all of these sources are also accessed by ants, which raises questions about their associations. It seems like they fight for similar sources, but the situation is different from expectations because they can live happily together.
Do Ants Eat Woodlice? Ants do not eat woodlice because they are engaged in a mutual relationship where woodlice eat fungi grown by ants and clear their nests in return by eating their droppings. Moreover, it is the prey of spiders and poses no risk of attack to the colony.
Most of the ants’ species are not interested in getting nutrition from these terrestrial isopods as they do not kill their helpers and engage in a positive relationship.
Why do ants avoid eating woodlice?
They do not consider woodlice a threat and prey because they benefit the colony.
Risk of infection in the colony
Ants and woodlice are mutually associated, benefiting each other and favoring survival. It is a tiny crustacean that extends from 8 to 12 mm and widens to almost 4 mm.
It prefers to eat decaying organic matter and feed on dead plants and animals in addition to the faeces of other insects by gaining access to their nest.
These greyish or brownish creatures prefer close associations and clean ants’ nests. They remove droppings from their nest using 2 pairs of jaws.
They consume fecal matter for their own nutrition and to keep their nest clean. Ants do not consume these tiny creatures because they help remove waste and protect from infection.
The colony members and larvae can become prone to infectious diseases in the absence of these creatures that are not considered insects.
Prey of spiders
Most probably, you do not know about the hunting spiders that are known to prey on woodlouse and are named woodlouse spider or Dysdera crocata.
These crustaceans are also known as pillbugs or sowbugs, so their predators are also named as pillbug hunters or sowbug hunters.
Ants leave them for spiders, which are primarily dependent on these small creatures for nutrition as it is one of their favorite meals.
The slater spiders are not aggressive species and do not prefer to bite their prey, so they use chelicera to attack and kill them before eating.
Uncontrolled growth of fungus
A few species of ants are known to grow fungus by providing a suitable substrate of leaves for multiplication. In addition, the fungus helps break the molecular structure of leaves and internal bonds.
It becomes easier for these insects to consume and digest simplified nutrients. Accordingly, woodlouse can attack the mildew or fungus growing within their nest for nutrition.
It prefers to feed on mildew and fulfill its body requirements without any objection from these insects because they benefit from these efficient cleaners.
These insects have to suffer from uncontrolled growth of fungus when there are no fungus eaters and nest cleaners that can risk their survival.
Death of larvae
Ant larvae can get infected with diseases without woodlouse because droppings will accumulate within the nest in the form of piles.
These insects have their mechanism of dealing with the poop and throwing the trash out of their nests, but these act as helpers that participate with them in the nest activities.
They are more prone to death if infectious agents act on their bodies because they have lesser resistance against diseases than mature adult members.
So, these insects do not kick these crustaceans out of their nests because they play a role in the protection of larvae against diseases and death.
No risk of attack
Woodlice are not harmful to the colony as they do not pose a risk to their survival. They do not act as predators and facilitate the colony for propagation.
Moreover, they are engaged in a positive relationship and are helpful to each other. Some people perceive their relationship as commensalism, where only the crustaceans get the benefit.
They can become aggressive against organisms that try to reach their nests to steal eggs or larvae. They can kill woodlouse if they detect risk to stored food, but these are friendly creatures.
Can ants and woodlice live together?
Woodlice are commonly seen living close to the ants because they are dependent for food on each other. However, it does not mean every species tolerates these crustaceans in their nests.
However, most of these insects can share their nests as they find these tiny creatures beneficial for their colony as they get hold of the nest-cleaning tasks.
Woodlouse prefers to eat rotting fruits, wood, and vegetables in addition to fecal matter, so they can help remove their droppings by consuming them.
Moreover, they have similar habitat requirements as both creatures prefer a moist environment and reach humid places to live.
It requires a moist environment for breathing through the gills that are present on the legs. They also prefer to live in dark and hidden spaces like a woodlouse so that they can live together.
Most commonly, they are seen living together with ants, but aphid farmers change their nest location and live close to aphids, so they do not associate with these crustaceans.
What type of ants can eat woodlice?
A few species eat woodlice as their bodies have dense nutrients that can fulfill their nutrition requirements for some time. However, it means all colonies do not allow entry of these creatures.
One of these eating insects includes Leptogenys elongate, commonly known as razor jaw ants with longer bodies and prefer to attack the nearby moving woodlouse.
In addition, species belonging to the Pheidole genus, like Pheidole pallidula, are also predatory insects or carnivores that do not step back when they see slugs or woodlice in their way.
Insects belonging to this genus prefer to live in moist and dark areas like shrubs and pastures, where these crustaceans can also reach as their habitat requirements are similar.
Lasius niger or black garden ants can also eat and digest the isopods because their diet relies on smaller insects and a few arthropods.
Similarly, the species of these insects belonging to the genus Solenopsis, like Solenopsis japonica, are voracious eaters and kill these crustaceans to fill their empty stomachs and get energy.
However, other species belonging to the genus Camponotous, Myrmica, and Formica can live close to these organisms and benefit from their presence.
It is hard for these insects to attack and kill these crustaceans as they have to think many times before fighting with the well-armored organisms.
So, they prefer to refuse them as food and begin to get the benefit.