Multiple Questions About Ants

Hello Consult-ant,

Thank goodness I’ve managed to stumble on this site; the information on other websites don’t quite provide the information I’m looking for. I think I may have a rather large amount of questions because I find ants just fascinating. Although, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to ask these many questions, so sorry for the inconvenience. If it is inconvenient (which I highly think it is), then are there any books on ants that you’d recommend I can read from? And please, by all means, answer as conveniently as possible for you such as answering a few questions at a time. Any way would be appreciated. So, to my questions:

1)      I’m interested in the ant’s digestion process and its role in the colony. I’ve read that some ants, the fully mature ones that is, can’t digest solid food due to their narrow waists. So is it true that the ants would take the solid food back to the colony and give them to their larvae where, there, it is digested and converted into a liquid form? I’m guessing that the larvae have the enzymes to digest the solid food. But does this process apply to ALL ants in terms of species?

Edit: Answer Post about ant digestion

2)      I’ve noticed that ants carry pick up their dead and move them. I’ve learned that they do this to basically ‘take out the trash’ for sanitary purposes. But I’ve also noticed that these ants also carry their dead when they’re far away from any ant hole. So, referring to my other question, if it’s true that ants do take the solid food back to their larvae, then are these ants carrying their dead back to their larvae for consumption? Assuming ants are cannibalistic,which I’m not sure of.

Edit: See post about ant undertakers

3)      I’ve been meaning to catch an ant queen, but I’ve been curious about other methods of catching one. Are there ant pheromones that can basically attract queen ants to come out of the colony? I assume that each ant species would probably have their own type of pheromones, so I’ll have to find out which species I’m planning to catch, which leads me to the next question: Where can I get these pheromones? Can I synthetically make them on my own? What differentiates certain pheromones from another? Subtleties in molecular structure?

Edit:  see post about ant queen pheromones

4)      Besides making trails and setting alarms, are there any other kinds of unique pheromones? Such as, attracting the queen ant or inducing certain behaviors like digging.

See 5.

5)      The ant uses their antennae to pick up ant pheromones, so if that’s the case, then do ants necessarily ‘smell’ food if the pheromone is blown towards the ant’s way? Essentially speaking, can ants smell their way to food?

Edit: I combined questions 4 and 5 in a post about ant pheromones.

6)      So ants have pheromones they lay to provide trails to sources of food, but I’ve read somewhere that ants have memory. Can you explain more about that? A ‘leader’ ant would teach a ‘follower’ ant towards a food source. Is that true? with only certain species?

Edit: Hey, I remembered to answer this question.

7)      I’ve read a little about trophallaxis (I hope I spelled that right, because Microsoft Word does not help in scientific terminology), but I don’t see ants perform trophallaxis much. I was observing pavement ants though, so perhaps it has to do with the species. But my question is, do they perform it more underground, as in their colony? Or is it all because these ants weren’t hungry at the time? And what does an ant have to do induce another ant to perform trophallaxis? Some kind of touch communication by antennae?

Edit:  Ant trophallaxis is now posted.

8)      If I were to catch a queen ant, would it be recommended to feed her some protein as well as sugary foods like honey? I was thinking about this because I’ve read that the eggs and larvae would need protein to grow properly (I’m guessing for muscle development and such). So is peanut butter a good protein choice, in substitute of other insects? I’m worried that peanut butter wouldn’t have all the essential amino acids because peanut butter is an incomplete protein. But I’m not sure about ant development and physiology, so I’m curious.

Edit: See Feeding Ant Queens

9)      Ants(obviously) eat other insects, and I probably lack observation skills but do the ants also eat the exoskeleton also? Do they (or the larvae) have some way of digesting chitin? I did see that the ants pretty much leave MOST of the exoskeleton intact, and go for soft parts.

Edit: Can ants digest chitin?

10)  If the eggs, larvae, and pupae were placed in bad conditions, specifically temperature, for a short period of time, would they be harmed?

Edit:  Effects of heat and cold on ant larvae

11)  Are there some ant species that simply drink water and then other species that absorb it from the humidity of the air? Or do they all do both?

Edit: Ants do drink water.

12)  I’m going to be feeding my ants probably some form of sugary food, like honey. But I’m wondering if it is also good to mix the honey with some vitamin and mineral supplement. Are there any substances in typical dietary supplements that ants should not eat?

Edit: See Feeding Ant Queens

13)  If a colony with only one queen ant were to die, would she be replaced with another?Or does the colony die out. If she gets replaced, then are there always alates available to replace her at any time? Or are they only produced prior for the mating season, nuptial flight, and etc.? Is there any way of the colony knowing that the queen is about to expire, like some kind of special pheromone?

Edit:  And we finish with replacing ant queens.

Wow. I do have a little bit more questions. But, I think I’ve consumed A LOT of your time. I think I’ll stop for now. I truly appreciate your time thus far. As you can see though, I am VERY curious about ants, especially social creatures like termites or even dolphins. I’d also like to apologize if some of my questions were already answered elsewhere. So thank you again for your time.

Extremely big thanks,


Dear Mike,

You have asked a good number of questions. Rather than trying to tackle each on of them here, which would make a very long post, I’m going to answer each question in a separate post and then link them here as they go up. That might make it easier.

As for books, I’ve put a widget in the left sidebar of some popular ant books. I particularly recommend that you pick up a copy of Mark Moffett’s Adventures Among Ants, which I recently reviewed. I think you would enjoy it.

If anyone reading this has posts or links that they’d like to share about any of these questions, please let me know. I could use the help 🙂

-The Consult-Ant

(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

8 Replies to “Multiple Questions About Ants”

  1. Hi there,

    I have been finding ants in my kitchen under the sink. I live in an apartment complex on the 3rd floor and at first, I would catch the ants (maybe 2 or 3 at a time) and put them outside but the very next day, when I opened the cupboard doors, there’s 2 or 3 ants again so what I have been doing for the past couple weeks is relocating these guys miles and miles away. So every day I bring my container to a site near my work and then it dawned on me, am I causing these ants to die by doing this or will they survive in their new environment and maybe find a new colony? Please let me know as I’m worried, I don’t want to be responsible for killing these guys and will find a different way if that’s the case.

    Thank you,

  2. Victoria,

    Often ants look for food and water indoors when it is too cold or wet outside. (I would think they are probably coming in from outdoors since you are seeing so few of them.) If that’s the case, they should disappear when the weather improves.

    As for transporting them away from their colony, I am afraid that a few worker ants will not live very long if they are separated from the parent colony.

    If you continue to see ants well into the summer, you might want to try to find out what kind they are. You can do this by taking a sample to your local Cooperative Extension service, or by taking pictures and submitting them to one of the bug identification websites ( or What’s That Bug?

    What you need to do about ants really depends on what kind they are…

    Good Luck,

  3. Hi Consult-Ant,

    I am wondering is there any specific pattern of the antennae between 2 ants who are communicating with each other? I know that they communicate by smelling different kind of pheromones, however when they are in contact with each other, do their antennae just rub in randomly manner as long as they can sense the pheromones from each other antennae?

    Thank you so much:)

  4. Stefani,

    Scientists have figured out some of the messages that ants communicate via their antennae, but I’m sure we have much more to learn. In one study, Bert Hoelldobler was able to elicit trophallaxis (food sharing) using a human hair to touch the right places of an ant’s mouthparts. You can read more about trophallaxis in this post:

    and more about the ways ants use their antennae in this .pdf paper: as an example.

    This is an interesting topic. If I get a chance, I may write a post about it. If I do, I’ll leave a link here.

  5. To Consult-ant:
    I am doing a science project on ants and I was wondering if you could list a couple of animals/bugs/whatever that lay pheromones in a way that ants would be able to smell. Also, I was wondering if ants would even follow a trail of their own type fully if I set one. Thank you!
    -The Musical AntExperimenter

  6. Hi Musical Ant Experimenter,

    When animals detect chemical of another species, it is called a kairomone rather than pheromone. A great example is ant species that are predatory on termites picking up the chemical trails produced by termites. Pachychondyla is an example.

    E.O. Wilson was one of the first to create a pheromone trail that ants would follow. You can see his technique in a clip from a NOVA program here: So, yes you can make trails that ants will follow if you have the right technique and the right species of ant.

  7. What is the chemical composition of the ant pheromones? And if you have extra time to answer, can you also please tell me what elements are capable of atleast weakening the pheromones? Thank yku berry matz!

  8. Regarding ant pheromones (which I wrote about extensively here:, Pherobase has a list of the pheromones found in different genera of ants at If you click on a genus name, you will see the various pheromones that have been reported in species of that genus. For example, scientists have found citronellal in ants of the genus Acanthomyops. Clicking on the name of the chemical takes you to a page showing its structure, etc.

    As far as your question about what would weaken the pheromones, you’d have to decide on which ones. Something like formic acid is soluble in water, so merely adding water would weaken it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.