The preference for food depends on its availability as wild species of ants have fewer options compared to their fellows living inside homes and only get nutrition from natural sources.
What Do Ants Eat in the Wild? Ants eat honeydew, fungi, flower nectar, worms, seeds, nuts, insects and their eggs, smaller animals, and arthropods in the wild. They cannot enjoy manmade products like bread, cakes, candies, etc., and rely only on natural food sources. Ants prefer protein-based food like the meat of dead animals or carrions to survive.
The eating habits of wild species vary from others as they usually have carnivorous diets and fulfill their body requirement from other insects and animals sharing the habitat.
Ants can get food from various sources as they are omnivores that can consume nutrients from different food types to revive their body energy and keep their cells functioning.
Most commonly, wild species of ants rely on the food sources that nature can provide them because they cannot enjoy tasty foods prepared by humans, like cakes, jellies, and sugar syrup.
However, they can find a potential alternative to these nutritious foods to increase their lifespan and avoid death due to lack of energy.
They build a close relationship with aphids living on the plants like sunflower, asparagus, dahlia, cabbage, potato, etc.
These green or yellow-colored plant pests suck sap and prepare honeydew for these tiny insects.
So, these insects rely on aphids and get nutrition from their sweet secretions or honeydew to fulfill their carbohydrate needs.
Most ant species are known to build symbiotic relations with fungi because they can help break down complex food particles by breaking their bond.
The leafcutter ants are symbiotically associated with fungi and provide a suitable medium for their growth. These insects cut, carry, and spread leaves in the nest to make a suitable substrate.
Fungi can grow on the substrate and break the bonds within cellulose to make leaves easier to digest. Euprenolepis procera is commonly present in Malaysia, building nests in rainforests.
It gets nutrition from the mushrooms only and survives on the fungi, meaning it can die without access to mushrooms because they do not choose other food types.
Invertebrates and arthropods
Ants do not hesitate to eat other invertebrates and make efforts to capture their prey. They can kill spiders, hermit crabs, snails, octopuses, and a few other invertebrates and arthropods.
They get attracted to the proteinaceous meat of these organisms and consider it a good source of protein that can help meet their body requirements.
They can also attack lobsters and worms when they are living or dead if they feel a threat to survival or decompose their bodies by extracting locked nutrients.
Accordingly, they can target any organism, including injured or dead insects and living ones. They can efficiently turn almost everything into fuel for their bodies.
These wild species have lesser options than those living close to humans because they cannot enjoy manmade products, and it becomes essential to feed on restricted food sources for survival.
The sources of carbohydrates are limited in the wild environment as they have to rely on natural sources of sugary substances that can be nectar from flowering plants.
The workers cannot fly higher to land on the flower, so they have to crawl over the stem and climb the plant to reach the flower portion.
They make climbing efforts to reach energy-rich secretions produced by flowers. A few flowers produce an excessive quantity of nectar compared to others, like daisies and musk mallow.
In addition, knapweed, dandelion, peonies, and white and red clover are also good source of nectar that is commonly present in a wild environment and provide food to ants.
Furthermore, the black garden ants are known to build a symbiotic relationship with peonies as they need nectar and avoid damaging flowers by keeping other predating insects at a distance.
Fruits, vegetables, and leaves
Fruits are a good source of natural sugars like fructose and glucose that are readily available to insects.
They can reach fruit trees and suck the nutrients from the hanging fruits.
Most commonly, they prefer to eat bananas because they are soft in texture and sweet in taste, making it easy for the insects to chew through them and get more nutrients.
Moreover, they can also attack strawberries, apples, and oranges when fully ripened, as raw fruits are not sweet in taste and provide a lesser quantity of sugar.
Some vegetables can also fulfill their energy requirements by providing essential vitamins and minerals, as they can attack okra and potatoes when living close to the roots.
Additionally, watermelon and corn offer good calories to consume, which works like fuel for these insects as they cannot perform low-energy activities.
A particular group of ants attack leaves and get nutrition from them when they prepare a substrate for fungal growth to break the complex molecules for quick digestion.
Seeds, nuts, grains
Seeds are a commonly available food source in the wild environment, as wind is responsible for the dispersion of seeds by blowing them off the plant.
However, these insects can also get inside a plant, like a sunflower, to get its seeds. They are rich in protein and are suitable for long-term storage.
The western harvester ants prefer to consume seeds of the dandelion plant, which is the sole energy source and is considered a staple food for them.
Furthermore, you can see these insects carrying rice, corn, wheat, and barley grains because they are loaded with proteins and suitable for storage.
These opportunistic feeders do not leave grains or seeds if their food trails encounter them. Instead, these hardworking insects haul these particles on their backs or fix them within their jaws.
After that, they have to drop the grains in the storage chamber of the nest, which is mainly designed to keep the stored food that will be used in the winter or rainy season.
Other insects and animals
Living or dead insects like caterpillars and termites can become a source of nutrition to wild ants that can kill these insects during defense and use them as food.
They are efficient predators and feed on smaller organisms belonging to the category of ants or other insects like butterflies and ticks and even consume their eggs.
Moreover, they are scavengers and decomposers that can help get rid of the waste material by consuming the dead bodies for nutrition.
A group of these insects can attack their prey sometimes, but preferably they feed on dead organisms like snakes, locusts, pigeons, hummingbirds, etc.
Even the larger animals are not safe from their attacks because carnivorous animals prefer to eat the decaying bodies on the forest floor.
Furthermore, they prefer to eat meat commonly available compared to others living close to humans relying on carbohydrate-rich food.
So, these insects cannot have different options for food than the indoor pests that can benefit from the sweet fermented foods in addition to all those sources available to wild species.