Ants are generally clean, but considering that they travel in masses and through small and dirty areas, they usually pick up dirt with their bodies. However, ants constantly clean themselves.
Are Ants Dirty?
Although ants clean themselves, this does not mean that they can eliminate all the bacteria they have gathered as they move through pipes or other dirty surfaces.
Ants have antennae that they rely on to smell, locate mates, and communicate with each other. Therefore, if the sensitive hairs covering the antennae get dirty, it becomes hard for them to smell, communicate, or reproduce.
In that case, they must constantly clean the sensitive hairs to allow for easier navigation and communication.
Can Ants Carry Diseases?
Most species of ants are not harmful; in fact, it’s a good idea to have ants in your garden as they are highly beneficial. However, some species can be considered harmful but in theory.
As they crawl through tunnels or dirty surfaces, they tend to gather dangerous bacteria. Although they regularly clean themselves, there is the likelihood that some of the bacteria will remain on their bodies.
Ants have been known to carry bacterial and fungal organisms that can cause diseases. An example is the pharaoh ants that carry and transmit organisms like salmonella, staphylococcus, clostridium, E-coli, shigella, and streptococcus. When such pathogens come in contact with human food, they can lead to diseases.
Salmonella infection results in diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Furthermore, salmonella also causes complications in the urinary tract, joints, nervous system, or blood and can cause deadly diseases.
One such long-term disease includes reactive arthritis. Those at risk of salmonella infection are children under the age of five, adults aged above 65 years, and individuals with a weakened immune system.
Staphylococcus has the capacity of causing infection to the host through direct tissue invasion. The most common infection caused by staphylococcus bacteria includes skin infections, pneumonia, endocarditis, osteomyelitis, and septic arthritis.
Clostridium bacteria also cause disease to their host, including botulism, gastroenteritis, soft-tissue infections, tetanus, clostridial necrotizing enteritis, and neutropenic enterocolitis. However, most clostridium infections are minor; there some that can be fatal if not properly treated.
Streptococcus has been known to cause several infections on its host. Some of the infections are minor, but others can be fatal. They include strep throat, cellulitis, scarlet fever, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, impetigo, rheumatic fever, necrotizing fasciitis, and post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
According to CDC, shigella infection causes diarrhea, which can be bloody, stomach cramps, and fever. Although these infections are not dangerous and do not require medication attention, those with reduced immune systems require antibiotics to suppress their effects.
E-coli is the most common cause of bacterial infections. It has been linked to bacteremia, urinary tract infection (UTI), cholecystitis, cholangitis, and traveler’s diarrhea. In addition, it has been linked to other infections, including pneumonia and neonatal meningitis.
How Do Ants Clean Themselves?
Ants’ body structure is made of a robust cleaning mechanism. Ants use their front legs to clean dirty antennae. The cleaning device of ants contains a notch and spur that is covered by hair and looks like a small lobster claw.
The cleaning process is systematic because it first cleans off big particles, eliminates finer particles, and brushes off any left dirt. The fine comb has a gap that only antennae hair can pass through, and any dirt in the hair sticks on the comb.
After the antennae hair has been cleaned, the last process is to clean the cleaning device. To do so, the ant uses its mouth, which secretes oily saliva that cleans and oils their bodies. The cleaning process is repeated severally. They also clean each other, thus remove the spores of parasitic fungi.
Ants live in colonies; in the colonies, there are nurse ants. The nurse ant’s role is to clean the eggs laid by the queen, larvae, and the young. After an egg is laid by the queen, the nurse ants take it away and lick it until it is completely sticky.
Another fun fact about the nurse ant is that it is the first known non-human species to take care of the wounded ants. It licks the injured ants and saves up to 90% of them by cleaning the wound and preventing further infection.
The young ants lack the skill-set to clean themselves. Therefore, the nurse ants usually straighten and clean their antennae and wash their body.
Are Ant Bites Allergenic?
Ants are equipped with special weapons for attack and self-defense. For example, ants contain mandibles that they use to nibble leaves, carry food, crush prey, or even fight back what they perceive as a threat.
Not all ant bites or stings are harmful to humans, but they can be very painful. Other ant stings and bites can also be highly allergic.
For example, a sting from the red fire ant is highly allergenic. Bites from red fire ants have alkaloids that can result in anaphylaxis in some people.
Anaphylaxis is a deadly allergic reaction that can be fatal if medical attention is not sought immediately. Any person suffering from anaphylaxis must be injected with epinephrine to get him out of danger.
Certain species of ants have stings similar to those of wasp. These usually inject venom-containing formic acid. Formic acid can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Some of the allergic reactions associated with formic acid include chest pains, swelling, dizziness, fever, sweating, slurred speech, and loss of breath.
How to Prevent Ants Indoors
Although ants are clean, they still pose a danger to human health. Therefore, measures should be put in place to prevent them from entering the house. Several measures can be put in place, including:
- Ensuring that food is stored in tight containers
- Floors are thoroughly swept to clean off crumbs or fallen food
- Soiled utensils and dishware are clean
- Make sure that there is no moisture in the house
- Through away any leftover food in dog or cat bowls
Ants are generally not dirty insects as they have a mechanism of cleaning themselves. However, these cleaning mechanisms cannot be effective in eliminating all bacteria-causing organisms.
Furthermore, the frequency of cleaning themselves is not known, and hence they have the potential of transferring those bacteria into the food.
Therefore, it is important to consider that ants can be harmful to your health. Therefore, measures should be put forth to remove them from the house.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.