Do Ants Eat Aphids?

Do Ants Eat Aphids

You can often see aphids on your plants accompanied by ants, and you may be wondering why this is? So do ants eat aphids or is there another reason behind this strange relationship?

No, ants do not eat aphids, however, the presence of aphids does provide a food source for the ants which is why you’ll often see them hanging around on the same plants in your garden. Ants actually consume the honeydew that aphids release.

Do Ants Ever Eat Aphids?

Generally speaking, ants get far more benefit from the aphids by keeping them alive than they would by eating them. But do ants ever eat aphids?

Yes, ants can be seen to eat aphids when the aphid is no longer beneficial to an ant, however, this is rare. Aphids will usually produce honeydew limitlessly. They’ll then reproduce providing the ants with further sources of honeydew and so the cycle continues.

It’s rare for an aphid to become useless to an ant and this is the only time that ants will eat aphids.

What is the Relationship Between Ants and Aphids?

When you look at aphid infestations on your plants, you’ll often see ants which is why it can be surprising to eat that ants do not eat aphids.

So, if ants do not feed on aphids, why are they drawn to aphid sites?

The reason is that these two creatures have a symbiotic relationship, which means that they work together to help one another. In other words, they scratch one another’s backs for something in return.

Ants protect the aphids on plants from other insect predators that try to eat the aphids. They do this because, in return, the aphids allow the ants to ‘milk’ them for honeydew which is incredibly sweet and appears to be an ant’s favourite food.

After finding these aphids, that are willing to provide food for the ants, the worker ant will leave a scent trail for the other workers to follow.

This is why there are usually many ants on the same plants as aphids and they work together to guard them so they can continue to have a source of honeydew.

So, to answer the original question, ants do not consume aphids, but they do eat the honeydew that aphids produce and will protect them in return.

What is their Relationship?
Ants look after aphids because they produce honeydew which ants then consume. Ants, therefore, protect aphids as a source of food.

Do Ants Eat Aphid Eggs?

Aphids reproduce by laying eggs on the leaves of plants and the relationship between ants and aphids is continued throughout reproduction.

The ants will protect the eggs from being consumed by other insects so that they have a source of sweet honeydew for in the future.

There have been some occasions in which ants have been observed removing aphid eggs and taking them to their nest. This keeps them safe and in a place of easy access for the ants.

Do Ants Eat Aphid Eggs

Why Don’t Ants Eat Aphids? 

Aphids are full of sweet honeydew so you might think that ants would also enjoy eating aphids as they will taste sweet and they’ll get their sugary hit of honeydew, right?

The answer is actually simple when you think about it. If an ant were to eat an aphid, it would receive a hit of tasty honeydew but that would be it. Its supply of endless honeydew would now be lost. 

Instead, by protecting and nurturing aphids, ants receive an almost unlimited supply of sweet treats. 

Do Ants Enslave Aphids?

There are some ants that are so addicted to the sweet taste of honeydew excreted by aphids that they will milk aphids to force them to release honeydew.

Ants will use their antennae to stroke aphids which cause aphids to release honeydew. Once ants have success, they will almost enslave aphids so they have a guaranteed source of sweet honeydew.

Do Ants Eat Aphid Poop?

We know that ants consume honeydew that has been milked from aphids, but does this mean they also consume their poop?

Whilst it is extracted from the aphids in a way similar to extracting milk from a cow, the honeydew they produce actually is their excrement which means that yes, ants eat aphid poop.

It sounds pretty gross, but apparently, the high sugar content of the excrement is irresistible to ants.

Summary

To summarise what we have learnt, ants do not eat aphids but consume the honeydew they excrete. Aphids can cause damage to some plants and the presence of ants will help in upkeeping the aphid population.

Ants will become increasingly territorial and possessive over the aphid population that they are protecting. So much so that they will often fight over ants to ensure their aphid supply is kept safe. 

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