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Ant feeding habits
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Ant feeding habits

Some ant species feed on a wide variety of food items, while others typically feed on a rather narrow range of foods, with food preferences changing significantly during the course of a season, ( especially for outdoor species, or depending on the specific needs of the colony). Periods of high egg production require foraging ants to bring back proteins to the queen, or queens, while at other times foragers may prefer to gather sugars or greases for their own energy needs or to promote larval growth.

Adults are unable to ingest hard, solid food particles and ingest only liquids which are sucked from the food material or from smaller particles in suspension. Foraging ants bring food or water back to the colony and pass it on to other nest-tending workers by a mouth to mouth process called trophallaxis. Nest tending workers then pass the food items along to larvae or the queens and often the larvae are stimulated to regurgitate liquid food to be further used and distributed among the members of the colony.

In nature, many ants obtain sugar by feeding on the sugary honeydew excreted by aphids or other sucking insects found on plants. These aphids are often tended and protected, as we would dairy cattle, by the ants as a food resource, thus, controlling aphids and other sugar producing insects is a good way to help control ant populations.

Dead insects, earthworms, and other organisms are fair game for the dinner table of ants and even live insects may be preyed upon. Some ants, such as leaf-cutting ants, actually cut, strip, and carry away plant leaf tissue. This leaf material is carried into the nest mound and used as a host for fungus growth. This fungus is then used as food by the colony.