Nutrition and care

Introduction to caring for ants

Every ant colony needs some love from its keeper. A successful antkeeper cares for their colony and regularly provides water and nutrition. They also make sure that the nest or arena is clean and free from parasites.

What to feed ants?

Ants, like most creatures on Earth, depend on water and nutrition to survive. Almost all ant species are omnivores, meaning they eat most things digestible. (1) They get their nutrition from the vegetable kingdom as well as from other insects or animals. And they’re experts at making use of their surroundings to feed themselves and their colony members.


Ant colonies spend a lot of time gathering insects and other things they consider rich in protein. The protein works as a foundation for the colony, fulfilling the base need for growth and expansion. The protein is fed to the larvae and queens. The larvae are fed chewed-up pieces by the workers, giving them everything they need to grow into adult ants. The workers themselves can not digest solid food – only in liquid form. Even though they have mandibles capable of chewing their prey, they can not swallow it due to a filter in their mouth. The solid food is not small enough to pass its mesh. The adult ants do not require protein in the same way that the larvae do. The queen on the other hand needs a constant supply to be able to create and lay eggs. This is resource-demanding work that requires both protein and carbohydrates.

A normal colony of woodland ants (Formica polyctena) can consume 6 million, or 28 liters, of insects over one year. This is proof of the hard life other insects have to live through when they have ants as neighbors. Their prey is not limited to particular categories but instead covers everything they can kill and eat, living or dead.

nutrition and care for ants protein carbohydrates mealworm
A colony of Adetomyrma goblin feeds the larvae with mealworms. The larvae are the colony’s greatest protein consumer and can, in most species, when needed chew their food without the help of workers. (California Academy of Sciences) Photo: Alex Wild.


The adult ants don’t grow and therefore they don’t need protein the same way as the larvae and queens. But since the workers spend their days and nights working they need energy: carbohydrates. And the easier they are to consume the better.

Ants love sugar, and will almost always prefer it when they need to refill their reserves. Sugar can be fed in different forms, but the liquid form is undoubtedly the best. Examples of this are syrup, honey, or simply water heated and mixed with sugar. Sugar water is easily prepared by mixing sugar and water in equal amounts. The portion of sugar can be varied to achieve different variations in the thickness of the fluid. Beware though: the more sugar, the higher risk of ants getting stuck and die in it.

There are different ways of feeding your ants liquid sugar. For example, an easy way is to fill up a test tube with it and plug it into a piece of cotton. This way the ants can absorb it from the cotton without drowning. Another way is putting the sugar water in a capsule of some sort and putting it in the arena where the ants go to hunt (if you have one). If you’re feeding your ants with viscous liquids, a piece of aluminum foil might work as a plate.

If you feel like varying the sugar intake, try giving your ants different sorts of fruits. They contain natural sugar, which some species might prefer.

ants need water
Aaah. Fresh water!

Ants need water

Just like us, ants need water to survive. Most colonies can survive without food for a while, but a lack of water is deadly. A wild ant colony gets its water from the moist ground they walk on. Tropical ants who live in trees gather water from morning dew on leaves. Since water is essential for ants to survive you need to provide them with a good and constant source of it.

Normally, ants can ”drink” from the walls of the nest where moisture gathers. This is one of the reasons that ytong nests are so popular among antkeepers since they absorb water and spreads it throughout the nest.

Apart from a moisturized nest, an external source of water is always a good idea. This is easily fixed by filling up a test tube with it and putting a cotton ball at the end. Why not combine it with their energy-need and put sugar water in it instead?