While we typically picture ants stealing food from a picnic basket or raiding the sugar jar in the kitchen, these tiny and industrious creatures actually have a very diverse diet. Learn more about ants and some of the unique foods that certain species eat.

Leafcutter Ants

What Do Ants Actually Eat?
Image via Flickr by Charles & Clint

As people watch the hard-working leafcutter ant haul away its trimmings, they probably think it’s taking the leaf back to the nest to eat. However, these ants are actually collecting the leaves to replenish their fungus garden. They create a special environment in their nests that’s perfect for the leaves to decompose and grow the fungus they eat. These ants will even build a ventilation system in their nest so there’s an ideal amount of airflow for fungus growth.

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants didn’t get their name because they eat wood, but because they build their nests and tunnels in wood. In fact, they simply remove the wood shavings from where they’re digging and leave small piles of them outside the entrance to their colony. These small black or red ants actually prefer to eat nectar from plants and other insects. When they’re inside your house, they’ll look for meats, fats, and sugary foods.

Army Ants

Army ant is the name that refers to any of the 200 species of ants found in Central and South America and Africa that have a voracious appetite and aggressive foraging behavior. These ants don’t create permanent nests like other ants. Instead, they lead a nomadic lifestyle and will take down nearly anything in their path when they’re looking for food. While they typically feed on small reptiles, amphibians, and other insects, some African army ants have been known to overwhelm and take down large vertebrate animals.

Black Garden Ants

Just like humans, some ants have learned how to herd their food. Black garden ants have a symbiotic relationship with aphids. The ants will protect aphids from predators like ladybugs and lacewings, and in turn, the aphids provide a source of food for the ants. Aphids like to feed on sap from plants, and when they do, they secrete a sweet and sticky substance called honeydew that black garden ants love to eat. However, this relationship isn’t always voluntary for the aphids, as the ants will bite the aphid’s wings off so they can’t fly away.

Red Imported Fire Ants

Red imported fire ants are known for their aggressive behavior and painful sting. While many people think that red imported fire ants are carnivores that hunt for food because of their venomous sting, they’re actually omnivores that eat both meat and plants. While they will eat insects, earthworms, and spiders, their diet actually consists mainly of vegetation and seeds. If red imported fire ants find their way inside your home, they’re likely to head straight for the greasy foods and sweet items.

From ants that only eat vegetation to ones that keep their own herd to make food for them, these incredible creatures have unique and interesting diets.