Many people do not know about white things loaded on the abdomen and adjusted within the mouth of ants and wonder what things are carried by these tiny creatures. They think these are eggs which is a common misconception as they cannot see these microscopic structures.
Why Are Ants Carrying White Things? Ants carry white things when they feed white-bodied larvae and pupae and hide them from predators after detecting nest disturbance. They can do this when they shift eggs to a new location, clean the nest, or disinfect larvae. In addition, these white things can be food particles, insects, pupae, and honeycombs.
Queen and male members of the colony are not responsible for carrying things as they are involved in mating only.
Workers are powerful creatures and carry objects on their strong backs as they have multiple legs and sticky feet to support the load.
Foragers manage food collection and its transfer, while nursing ants help feed the young brood and keep them clean.
Hiding larvae from predators
Ants have the risk of attack by larger insects and smaller animals as they become prey for some organisms and meet their requirements of nutrition.
Larger insects like beetles, spiders, and caterpillars attack not only the adult ants navigating in their territory but can also eat their eggs and larvae.
Moreover, these smaller structures are packed with rich protein content and are easier to consume and digest due to their soft bodies.
Furthermore, lizards, snakes, snails, frogs, and even birds like starlings and sparrows can also steal the eggs from their nest and kill them.
So, they are at risk of being stolen by predators; that’s why adult protectors carry them to a different location if they feel the environment is not safe for their survival.
Stealing insect eggs or honeycomb
Ants become predators for some other insects like termites, caterpillars, and spiders, as they also need protein to build their muscles and improve strength.
They can steal the eggs of other insects when they get a chance to do it while foraging for food. For example, Hummingbirds and whiteflies produce whitish eggs that ants can steal for nutrition.
Moreover, they are omnivores and attack honey bees and their brood to get honey and eat their bodies. Bees can leave their hives after heavy infestation, allowing ants to live there.
These tiny creatures can take honeycomb and use this complex structure as home due to the presence of hundreds of separate tiny compartments.
Furthermore, some of these insects are good kidnappers and steal their own eggs to use them as food. They pinch the rear bodies of babies to consume droplets coming out of their anal pores.
In addition, a few are more deadly and consume hemolymph by piercing through the skin of babies.
Transferring food to the nest
The foragers locate and collect food to feed young ones and store the particles inside the nest for future use. They transfer food particles to their nest and keep them for future use.
Animal-based fats, white bread pieces, and potatoes are full of nutrients and become part of the daily nutrition that these tiny insects usually eat.
Accordingly, they can be carrying food particles when you see small things loaded on their backs or mouth. Some food particles appear in white, like rice grains and sugar granules.
Moreover, some other grains and wheat flour are part of their diet and appear whitish, which can be seen in their mouths when transferring the particles to their mound.
Cleaning the nest
A particular group of ants is assigned to clean the nests and remove dirt, debris, and excrement or frass from the mound.
The undigested food particles or frass get excreted from their bodies, which look like a powdery substance and appear white.
These excrements and frass can dirty their nests or pose a risk of infection due to exposure to infectious substances and germs.
Accordingly, the cleaning members of the nest carry these particles, drop them in the designated chambers or toilet areas, and leave them far from the nest.
Feeding larvae and pupae
Some people think these white things are tiny eggs, but eggs are transparent that are not seen by the naked eye.
These whitish things are immature pupae as they are bigger in size and pass through continuous metamorphosis.
They are covered inside a whitish cocoon while passing through internal and external developments as their legs and antennae are in growth stages.
You can consider them eggs that entered a pupae stage shortly or are still immature, as these pupae turn yellow when they mature.
The fellow ants take care of the pupae’s nutrition as they have to become adults after a series of developments bringing physical changes to their bodies.
So, it means that nursing ants are feeding their babies when they are present in their mouths by squeezing their necks to put a drop of saliva.
Disturbance of colony
Ants can carry larvae or pupae on their backs if they feel any disturbance to their colony after drastic changes in their habitat and environment.
They do not feel safe during winter and rain as there is a risk of freezing, and rainwater can cause flooding; that’s why they prefer to relocate their nests to safe locations.
They will begin to move to indoor areas providing warmth and nutrition, and the workers usually carry larvae and pupae as they are not mature enough to crawl by themselves.
Moreover, these workers load these immature colony members on their backs and hold multiple pupae in their mouths to shift them to a new location.
Disinfecting larvae and pupae
Ants move through dirt and debris while foraging for food and collect many germs on their bodies that can make them sick by causing infectious diseases.
These diseases can pose a risk to colony survival when these germs get transferred from one organism to another; that’s why they keep themselves free of germs.
Accordingly, the nursing ants pay attention to removing debris from the bodies of young ones in the brood to avoid the risk of infection.
Adult insects lick the spores of fungi from the bodies of larvae and store them inside pockets of the mouth. After that, these spores are spitted out of the mouth as pellets.
So, their mouth acts as disinfection chambers that can clean almost 90 to 95% of the larval body from germs, but a few will remain there.
You can think of their plan for cleaning larvae when you see them carrying tiny larvae in their mouth and entering a different chamber of their nest.