Ants | Following The Trail To Food

The cool Iowa morning drew me outside to enjoy my cup of coffee. Two Blue Jays were busy calling to each other as they patrolled the backyards. The air was heavy with moisture. Soybeans and corn grew tall.

I reached for my cup and noticed some movement out the corner of my eye. It was an ant, only ⅛” long, moving up a black metal rod. It’s antennae were feeling the way ahead of it. They were keeping it on some sort of invisible trail.

Heading toward food.

Heading toward food.

It went up and over the arch and down the other side. It carefully negotiated the wire hanger and went down the side of the bottle of sugar water of the hummingbird feeder. Each ant followed the same path to within about 1/2″. The invisible trail guided them well. Returning ants rounded the top of the arch and got to the rail of the deck where they moved along the edge to the left. They disappeared over the side and headed down to the ground somewhere. Two tiny bodies are visible about halfway up the post in this picture.

The prize at the end of the trail.

The prize at the end of the trail.

Close inspection showed several ants gathered around some pools of sugar water. Their mouths were touching the water. Each ant showed no movement for several minutes. They seemed to be drinking their fill of the sweetness. I watched several back away from the sugar water and begin their trek in the reverse direction along the trail.

Drinking their fill.

Drinking their fill.

I wondered if I could tell whether their abdomens were any larger because of drinking sugar water for several minutes. Positioning the camera and setting it for macro closeup, I patiently waited for one to come down so I could get a nice view in silhouette. Several attempts failed. They moved too fast. Then, success. To my amazement, their little bellies were so distended they were translucent. Light shined through them. What a fun nature lesson this morning.

Heading home...belly full.

Heading home…belly full.

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23 thoughts on “Ants | Following The Trail To Food

  1. Sheryl

    It’s really interesting to see how the ant looked with the full tummy. I never would have guessed that it would like substantially different after it ate.

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  2. shoreacres

    I never would have imagined such a thing. Of course I knew ants will beat a path to food, but I didn’t realize they were such little gluttons. I suppose if they’re going to make that much of an effort to find food, they’re going to want to consume as much as they can before dragging themselves home. It’s a great series of photos.

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    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Thanks. I had fun. What I didn’t comment on were my attempts to mess with them and their trail. I touched my finger in the coffee then dragged it across their path about an inch. They still went around. I spread out the smear to 2 or 3 inches. They wouldn’t go that far to the side of the trail. They backtracked and approached again and again. Finally, they found an alternate route some ant marked and got around my obstacle.

      Survival and strength in numbers.

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    1. Jim in IA Post author

      These are tiny about ⅛” or so. They aren’t carpenters. I’ve had them and earwigs get into the h-feeders. What a mess. I wrapped some cloth around the base of the metal rod and sprayed it with insecticide. It stops their trips up to the feeder for several days until I soak it again.

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  3. Thread crazy

    Enjoyed your adventure this morning with the ants. I too have several hummingbird feeders out in a dead tree. Birds seems to love it so we’ve left it for now. Anyways I have some tiny tiny ants that get into my feeder; I believe they are smaller than yours as we call them sugar “ants”. Their bodies are light amber color and maybe about 1/16″ in size and when I take the feeders down to clean and refill, they are inside also. I would have never thought about the ants bellies being bigger coming back down – what an interesting thought.

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  4. Mrs. P

    I have tried photographing several insects but never tried an ant before…must give it a go, someday.

    Never miscalculate the intelligence of an ant. I will always remember the movie Phase Four, one of my first Sci-Fi movies…scared the heck out of me.!

    An interesting ant story…we had a serious problem with ants in the yard when my daughter was young. So bad that I couldn’t let her play outside because they would start running up her legs if she stayed out there for even five minutes. I tried insecticide, even hired out companies, nothing worked. Then I read an article in Organic Gardening which suggested finding the hills and mixing a scoop of one hill with another hill and let them go to war. I was desperate and willing to try anything. I scooped one hill from the front yard and mixed it with another from the back and waited to see what would happen. Though I didn’t watch the battle…the next day all the ants were gone…never to return.

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    1. Jim in IA Post author

      I remember seeing parts of a movie with giant ants. I have no idea what the title was. Impressive ants, tho.

      So, you started an all out war with the ant colonies? They take no prisoners. I drive the mower over one each week. This time, they all freaked out and started carrying larvae out of the ground.

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