Ants, like any other animal, need oxygen to survive. They would, therefore, drown if submerged in water for a long time. However, some ants can survive for up to 24 hours without oxygen, and others have a strange ability to float on water!
The respiratory system of insects is different from that of mammals. Where animals use noses to breathe, insects have small openings along their exoskeleton that are known as spiracles. Oxygen from the air enters the trachea through the spiracles, after which it is delivered into the general body of the insect directly.
How Long Does It Take Ants To Drown?
Ants do not necessarily die immediately they are exposed to large amounts of water.
- Sometimes you will see them floating on water. Because of their small body masses, ants are not able to penetrate the surface tension of water. They therefore sometimes float on the water surface.
- But once the ant has broken the surface tension and it is underwater, it will have trouble recovering. An ant’s small body mass makes it impossible for it to overcome the weight of the water and propel itself back to the surface. As a result, they end up dying off.
The time taken by an ant to drown will depend on how long it can go without oxygen: some last as long as 24 hours, and others, much longer than that.
Some ants have survival tactics to keep themselves alive in case of a flooding incident.
A good example is the fire ants, which form rafts in nature to get away from floods. They do this by linking their legs and mouths. Placing the queen and the larvae at the center of the raft, they float out to a safer place.
Related: How do Ants Survive the Rain?
How Long Can Ants Hold Their Breath?
On average, an ant can hold its breath for up to 24 hours.
This means that ants can survive underwater for hours, and some species, even longer than that. What happens in such a situation is that ants close their spiracles to prevent water from flooding their bodies. Closing their spiracles also means that oxygen cannot be accessed either.
However, like all animals, ants cannot do without diatomic oxygen- they need it for their metabolism. The metabolism of ants and all other insects is relatively slow, so they do not need too much oxygen. That is why it would take them that long to die when submerged in water. This is why ants submerged in water may appear dead when they are not.
The exception would be if they are exposed to soapy water. Soapy water has minimal surface tension, so an ant would get swallowed immediately. Additionally, soap dissolves the wax that enables the insect to block its spiracles. Open spiracles mean that water can flood into the general cavity of the ant, causing it to drown instantly. Not even fire ants can raft their way out of this.
Can Ants Swim?
Most ant species are not adapted to swimming.
However, their small body masses enable them to repel water so that they can float on top of it. Unfortunately, their appendages are not built in a way that they can propel themselves and move forward, so they end up kicking clumsily around. If this goes on for some time, the ants may end up drowning.
Despite their inability to swim, some species have developed survival skills to get out of a drowning situation.
These are the fire ants, which have floating mechanisms. While this is not exactly swimming, they manage to make themselves buoyant in water.
Furthermore, if their raft gets submerged underwater, it quickly pops back up to the surface. This way, fire ants are able to ‘swim’ to safety.
The exception of ants not being able to swim is the diving ant, scientifically known as the Camponotus schmitzi.
These ants, which belong to the species of carpenter ants, have the habit of diving into the digestive fluids of their host plant to capture insects therein.
Scientists believe that the Camponotus schmitzi has undergone chemical changes that enable it to penetrate through liquid surfaces. Additionally, these ants know how to use their legs to move around in the liquid. The movement is similar to how they use their legs on land, so scientists believe that the adaptation is recent.
Can Ants Survive In Hot Water?
Boiling water will kill ants almost instantly. Just like any other animal, even human beings, hot water can cause serious bodily harm and even death. For small insects such as ants, they do not stand a chance at all.
Thus, hot water will kill hundreds of ants on contact and even cause their nests to collapse. If you are looking to destroy ant colonies, you should pour enough boiling water on their nests. However, try not to use boiling water inside your house as it may destroy more than just the ants.
Can You Kill Ants By Flushing Them Down The Toilet?
Flushing ants down the toilet is not a guarantee that they will die. It would depend on many factors, such as the water pressure as it flashes and whether the water contains any sort of chemicals that could be harmful to ants.
Remember that ants are capable of surviving in water for a whole day. Therefore, if the water is pure and the pressure is moderate, the best that could happen is that they will be moved from one location to another. However, if the water contains any additives like soap, the ants are likely to die as they are being flushed.
In any case, under normal circumstances, diving ants and ants that are bigger are more likely to survive when flushed down the toilet than smaller ones. Giant ants can withstand more pressure.
Ants can drown in water if they are submerged for longer than they can ‘hold’ their breath, which is usually 24 hours. Some species, such as the fire ants and diving ants, have developed mechanisms that enable them to survive floods. Ants need oxygen to function, and the prolonged shortage of it in their bodies is fatal.
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.