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Are Ants Cannibals?

One of the reasons why ants thrive is because they eat both meat and vegetables. They eat almost everything that humans do. What’s more, ants are also cannibalistic as they tend to feed on each other when the situation calls for it.

are ants cannibals

However, the more aggressive ant species, fire ants and army ants, do not require special occasions to feed on each other and other ant species.

These two species forage on anything and everything that they come along.

Other ant species, such as carpenter ants, feed on each other in extreme survival situations or when the younger ants or the queen are not getting enough food from other sources.

Ants are very resourceful insects- they are incredibly organized and are armed with a variety of survival skills whenever hit by life-threatening situations. They are also some of the most populous animals on earth.

Which Ant Species Feed on Other Ants?

Army ants have the reputation of eating other ant species in the same way they feed on other insects, small rodents, and reptiles.

They are aggressive and carnivorous and show zero mercy for other ant species: they will attack other species of ants and feed on them without remorse or any sense of holding back. Mostly, it’s the younger army ants that feed on other ants.

Fire ants are just as aggressive as army ants. Fire ants will readily feed on fellow fire ants and other smaller ant species. To counter this, targeted ants, especially those that belong to the Pheidole genus, have mastered the skill of killing scout fire ants on sight.

Essentially, they have a predator-prey relationship.

Wood ants are also known to be cannibalistic.

This ant species wages war with other ant species, especially when there is a food shortage. The goal is to kill the other ants, and as the corpses pile up, the wood ants carry them to their nests to provide food for the colony. Studies suggest that other ant species are important sources of food ants, and not only when there is a scarcity of food.

Carpenter ants are some of the most survivalist ant species there are: they can go for up to over half a year without food or water.

Furthermore, they can live in very cold temperatures, even as cold as -1⁰F. These ants will also resort to cannibalism to prolong their survival in dire situations.

In some cases, the queen ant of different ant species, as the most important ant in the nest, will feed on her offspring to keep her alive when there is food scarcity.

Why Do Ants Practise Cannibalism?

Ants are some of the most communally social insects there are.

Thus, most of their resources are communal. They do things together and share what they find with the whole nest.

For instance, when worker ants find a food source, they alert other worker ants and even bring back some of the food to be shared by the whole colony.

In the same spirit, ants consider the contents of each other’s stomach communal property.

This explains why the bite marks were mostly found on the abdomen of the dead ants. It is important to note, though, that these ants were feeding on ants that were already dead- they didn’t kill each other for food.

Study: Ant Cannibalism in Poland

Ants are highly resourceful and do whatever it takes to survive and stay organized. As a result, they are able to find ways to keep alive even in almost impossible situations.

In 2013, a group of Polish scientists stumbled upon an ant colony in an abandoned nuclear bunker that had no access to the outside world.

This meant that the ants had no access to food, water and could not scout for it. By the time the scientists discovered the ants, they had no queen and, therefore, could not reproduce.

The scientists returned to the spot two years later, expecting to find the ants dead due to starvation and lack of resources. Much to their surprise, the nest was thriving, and their numbers had even increased.

These scientists investigated how that could be; how could a colony of ants without a queen and food still be alive and functional for years?

Expectedly, there were several ant corpses who hadn’t managed to survive this extreme survival situation. In their research, the scientists collected about 150 dead ants from the floor to study them.

Interestingly, these ant corpses had gnaw-marks on their bodies that heavily suggested that they had been cannibalized by the other ants.

According to the report submitted by the Polish scientists, 93% of the ants showed signs of having been eaten by other ants.  The bite and gnaw marks were mostly in the abdomen area where the stomach is found. This explained how the ants were able to survive years without sources of food.

Conclusion

Ants are very resourceful, organized, and smart insects. They know how to survive different situations and keep their colonies alive for as long as possible. Sometimes, ants resort to feeding on other ants to prolong their survival when there is a scarcity of food.

Some ant species have a prey-predator relationship with specific ants as they readily attack and feed on them. These ants include army ants and fire ants. In addition, wood ants engage in ant wars so that they kill and feed on other ant species. Also, carpenter ants can feed on each other when they face a severe shortage of food.