Tongues are one of the highly functional organs in living organisms, as these are involved in detecting taste by licking or swallowing food, but insects have varying body structures.
Do Ants Have Tongues? Ants have tongues, but they differ from humans as their tongues look like palps or finger-like appendages present below mandibles or close to maxillae. In addition, the taste buds are located on palps and under the feet, which can help detect a variety of flavors, like sweet, salty, spicy, and bitter.
Ants have muscular organs, like tongues containing taste buds for detecting flavors, but these tiny creatures do not have large tongues like humans. It can be functionally similar to humans but vary in structure or appearance.
Do ants have tongues in their mouths?
Insects and vertebrates have varying body features due to size differences and share many physical and behavioral characteristics, but a few differences exist between them.
Tongues are characteristics of higher vertebrates that are long, flat, and thin, having taste buds for selecting food according to their flavor.
However, ants have a tongue-like organ that performs a similar function but looks different. Their tongues are small finger-like appendages present close to the mouthparts.
These appendages are known as palps and are divided into outer and inner pairs of palps. Palps are a pair of segmented appendages, elongated in shape and present close to their mouth.
These sensory organs are involved in determining the food flavor to select the suitable food for eating. The outer pair is located on the maxilla below the mandibles and is involved in the cutting or chewing food particles.
An outer pair of palps is an elongated and sucking tubular mouthpart used for feeding. This tubular part has a ciliated groove to collect the organic matter and contain taste buds.
In addition, the inner pair of palps are present on the labium and pass the material into the mouth when the mandibles crush it into smaller pieces, and the outer pair pushes it backward.
The taste receptors on these sensory organs help detect the flavor of food and pass the food into the mouth if it collectively seems suitable for consumption by the taste and odor receptors.
Similarly, their feet can help determine the food taste when these tiny insects crawl over the food and touch the particles with their sticky feet.
So, ants have different means of tasting food and use their palps as tongues, and their feet can also aid in detecting different flavors.
How do ants taste their food?
Ants taste and eat their food using their mouths, which is not visible clearly because they have larger mandibles or jaws extruding outward from their mouth.
These mandibles can help chew larger food particles and break them into fine pieces that can easily fit inside the mouth and digest quickly.
Moreover, small tube-like structures on the maxilla are sensitive toward the food and help ants choose the right food for nutrition.
Taste receptors are present on palps, which are sensitive to different food particles and differentiate their flavor.
In addition, their feet also have taste receptors that can efficiently perceive taste by touching the food particles.
They crawl on rotten fruits, sugary spills, and dead insects, move through trash containers, and check whether it is suitable for eating.
Their elbowed antennae or feelers are also sensitive to different odors and flavors that can detect the texture of food, whether liquid or solid, but their taste buds are located on feet and palps.
How do tongues help ants to survive?
Tongues and taste receptors play a crucial role in the survival of ants because they cannot make a wise choice without detecting their flavor and identifying their texture.
Ants can distinguish between edible and non-edible food types using their tongue-like structure or palps in the mouthparts. They can chew almost everything with their powerful mandibles.
However, they chew for a purpose, as they can break rubber insulation on wires to make their way inside homes, but not for eating purposes.
They do not eat hard plastic and wood; instead, they can chew it because they do not find it nutritious and flavorful.
Accordingly, their smell and taste receptors can help detect edible food by smelling its odor and checking its flavor to make a suitable choice for food.
This way, they detect food quality by assessing its nutritional content, texture, and flavor when their vision finds its size, shape, and color suitable for consumption.
The ability to detect tastes helps improve their foraging efficiency as they can discriminate between foods with different flavors and nutritional values.
Recognize nest mates
Taste perception allows ants to recognize their nest mates by touching their bodies and detecting the taste of chemical secretions on their muscular bodies.
It is essential to distinguish between friends and foes to reduce the threat of attack and ensure survival because unknown insects usually try to enter their colonies.
Beetles, wasps, and other common predatory insects can attack the queen, larvae, and even the workers by entering their territories and making their way through nests.
So, they can fight and deter these predatory insects only when they can identify the foes by tasting the chemical secretions released by their bodies using their tongues.
Remove waste material
Some ants are responsible for cleaning nests and managing the waste material by throwing it out to avoid the risk of infection and make space.
Nest chambers contain waste material or frass produced by insects living in a colony in addition to stored food, so they have to detect the waste material to throw it out.
They have to sanitize their nests regularly by detecting the waste material; otherwise, it can lead to severe infection and toxicity due to the presence of fecal matter and harmful substances.
So, their taste receptors can help assess the fecal matter and harmful substances to throw them in a specific chamber designated for the waste material or make a pile outside nests.
Avoid poisonous food
The ability to perceive taste helps avoid the risk of death and increases their lifespan because they can detect toxic substances with their taste receptors.
They reject food particles with an unpleasant taste because their bitter flavor acts as a warning signal. Accordingly, they do not pick toxic boric acid particles until you mix a sugary attractant.
Ant baits usually contain an attractant or sweet food item in addition to toxic boric acid because these insects avoid eating bitter food and reject the baits without an attractant.
Their smell and taste receptors are sensitive to various odors and flavors, which can help detect poisonous foods by their unpleasant odor and bitter flavor.
So, they can survive longer due to the presence of tongue-like organs in their mouth, which can help prevent death due to the toxicity of poisonous substances.
How many types of flavors can ants taste?
Ants are sensitive to many different types of flavors, and they perceive taste like humans using a tongue-like organ or palps containing taste buds.
They are highly sensitive to sugary or sweet tastes and prefer to choose sweet food items because they are highly nutritious and rich in carbohydrates.
Moreover, they can also taste spicy and salty flavors by touching the food particles with the outer maxillary palps located below the mandibles.
Furthermore, they can detect the bitter and sour flavors of toxic powders, lemons, oranges, or other citrus fruits and usually avoid eating them due to their acidic nature.