How Do Ants Find Food? {Their Secrets Strategies Revealed}

In a matter of seconds, ants are all over crumbs of food that accidentally fell on the floor. How did this happen so quickly? How do ants find food?

How far away can they smell it from? What if the food is sealed in bags and containers? Can ants still smell it and find it? What do they do with all this food when they collect it?

In this article, we’ll dive into the deepest possible explanations and details about how ants find food.

How Do Ants Find Food?

Ants can take advantage of chemical substances in their surrounding environment to apply chemosense, olfactory receptors, scent trails, small bristles on their body and pheromone secretions through their abdomens to find food faster than many other insects.

Scouts are sent out to find food within a 100-yard radius from their nest. Once they find food, they will press their abdomen against the ground to secrete scent trails for worker ants to follow the guided path towards their bounty of food.

The food they find will be brought back to their nest to serve to their queen and their thriving colony.

Why Do Ants Find Food So Fast?

Ants can find food very quickly because of the way that they have distributed their workload and responsibilities amongst their colony.

Scouts are employed to look for food at all possible directions surrounding a 100-yard radius near their nest. They can find food quickly and return to their nest while leaving a trail of their pheromones behind.

This is a chemical secretion that they can produce through their abdomen by pressing it against the ground. This is how our scouts tell the workers that they have discovered food.

They follow the trail to collect the food before anyone else discovers it. The division of responsibilities allows for greater output of work. It seems we may have copied the way ants work to increase productivity in our own work as well.

How Far Away Can an Ant Smell Food?

Ants are able to smell food from great distances. Scout ants will be sent out toward locations that are up to 100 yards away from their nest. This doesn’t mean that they can smell the food from that far away.

  • Ants can smell food from 10.8 ft (3.3 m) – 19.3 ft. (5.9 m). 

Ants can usually smell food from about 10 feet away. Some of the farthest distances for smelling food can be as far as 20 ft.

Ants have a stronger sense of smell the than most insects. They use their olfactory receptors and small bristles on their body to detect food on their journey.

Can Ants Smell Food Through Plastic?

Yes. Ants have the capability to smell food through plastic bags and containers. They can alert their colony that food is present. This is why so many ants can show up during picnics and outdoor gatherings where food is present.

Ants will try to sneak through openings in plastics or wait for the opportunity when you have open it up yourself.

If one ant is able to break through plastic or sneak in without you noticing, they will start releasing pheromones to communicate with other worker ants to arrive to this destination.

They will leave behind a scent trail that other ants can follow which will lead to the food that you may have thought was sealed and protected in plastic.

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Do Ziploc Bags Prevent Ants?

There are many types of Ziploc bags. Some are cheaper brands and thinner. More often than not, ants can smell food through plastic.

If your bag of food is not sealed properly, ants will be able to find it. They will try to sneak into the bag and release pheromones through a scent trail.

If you notice ants inside Ziploc bags, and it’s time to surrender it and prevent further theft by stealing them tightly and storing them away next time.

Can Ants Get Into Refrigerator?

Yes. Ants can find their way into many parts of our home without us noticing. They are looking for:

  • water
  • shelter
  • food

Your refrigerator is an ideal location for ants to scavenge. Carpenter ants are one of the more common types of ants that are looking for sweet items or meats that are contained within your refrigerator.

When storing items in your refrigerator, it is important that you continue to seal them in containers to prevent ants from finding their way inside them.

If you leave food open inside your refrigerator, there is a chance that ant may find their way into the fridge and and begin foraging.

What Do Ants Do With the Food They Collect?

When ants find food to collect, they are able to lift and carry them towards their nest. Ants are able to lift items that are 5000 times heavier than their body weight.

Scouts are sent out to find food. When they find it, they will release pheromones and scent trails to alert worker ants by creating a guided pass for them to find the source of food.

Once a group of ant begins to collect the food, they will bring it back to their nest. The messages have to be sent very quickly to alert their colony members to arrive in large numbers in order to pick up as much food as possible.

They either lift or absorb the liquid contents and bring it back to their colony to serve their queen and other members who are busy at work.

How Do Ants Process Food?

Ants prefer to process food that is in liquid form. They will try to transport as much as possible to their colony through their stomach.

Ants have a social stomach like a lunch box contained inside their body.This stomach will allow them to release what is inside to feed other members of their colony or their queen.

Once an ant reaches its full capacity of storage, it can still continue to release pheromones to strengthen the scent trail for other ants to follow it. More ants will arrive quickly to process chunks of food and bring it back to the nest.

Ants will have to quickly devour and process these foods in order to not attract unwanted bacteria,  fungus or predators at their nest. The entire process is quick, efficient and productive.

What Food Attracts Ants?

Ants are attracted to many types of foods including:

  • Sugary foods
  • Protein
  • Rotting foods containing fungus

Ans are opportunistic in their feeding strategy. They’re omnivores and they will eat just about anything that they can find.

  • Fire ants or black house ants are mostly attracted to sugary foods or meat.
  • Carpenter ants prefer dead insects or honeydew in the wild.

Even though ants from different species have different food preferences, they will continue to take advantage of any food items that they can process through their social stomach and bring it back to their nest.

Ants to not like to break down solid foods. They prefer to absorb liquids from foods. If they cannot break it down on the spot, they will carry the food items back to their nest. Ants are able to lift crumbs of food that are 5000 times their body weight.

How to Prevent Ants From Finding Food in My House

It is up to us to prevent ants from investing our house when they are looking for food. Follow these strategies to prevent ants from finding food inside your house.

  • Clean your countertops and surfaces. Never allow drinks stains or crumbs of food to remain in one area for too long.
  • Mop and sweep the floor daily.
  • Do not leave food open when you are not around. Store them in airtight containers.
  • Keep bowls of food intended for your pets clean at all times. After your favorite animal has finished eating, clean out the bowl.
  • Seal all cracks, gaps and crevices in your home with silicone or caulk.
  • Consult with a pest control service or an exterminator to inspect your home for possible infestation you cannot find yourself.

What Do Carpenter Ants Eat?

Carpenter ants eat a variety of different kinds of foods that contain fats or sugars. In outdoor environments, carpenter ants are looking at feeding on dead insects. They also enjoy eating honeydew that aphids create.

In your home carpenter ants can feast on:

  • Meat
  • Pet food
  • Syrups
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Jelly
  • Sweets

Carpenter ants will look to liquify food sources from their solid state. They are trying to ingest liquid versions of food or break down food in order to carry it further towards your nest inside their stomachs.

When Do Ants Look For Food?

Worker ants and scouts are tasked with finding food for their queen and their colony. They will usually forage for food at night between sunset and midnight.

Spring and summer seasons is when worker ants are most busy trying to find food. They will travel over 100 yards in length to be able to find food near their nest.

Insects are active in the winter if their nest is warm enough. If the temperatures are mild enough they will go on a search.

Ants typically prefer foraging at night. Areas that are moist are more likely to be foraged. This is why you may find them in your kitchen or bathroom areas.

How Do Carpenter Ants Find Food?

Carpenter ants are referred to as wood ants, but they do not eat wood. They use a combination of visual memory and pheromones to find food sources that are contained near or on wood.

Carpenter ants prefer honeydew from aphids on plants or dead insects. They travel slowly and carefully while utilizing their antennae against the ground to pick up pheromone scent trails.

Carpenter ants can remember images of their trip. They can use landmarks and memories of the landscape to help them direct themselves toward food sources.

What Is an Ant Trail?

An ant trail is what scout ants leave behind after they have found some food. They will release chemical pheromones through their abdomen.

They will press their abdomens against the ground and create these trails for worker ants to follow afterwards. They return to the nest and alert other ants that they have found some food.

These pheromones help light the way towards the treasure that the scout has found for the colony.

How Long Do Ant Trails Last?

Ants leave trails with their pheromones against the ground by pressing their abdomens to make sure that they can find their way back to a source of food that a scout has found for the colony.

The scent trails can last anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 days. If the trail is being used more often and ants are walking along it, the scent will become stronger and last longer.

Other ants will continue to keep the scent trail active by continuing to release pheromones as they walk along it.

This is why you may see some ants walking in a line and stopping for a brief moment to press down on the ground before they continue on towards their food source.


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Jason Barrett

Hello, I'm Jason. I have 11 years of experience in dealing with pests. I try to provide you the best information that'll help you to make the pest control process easy & affordable