What do ants eat?

Authors : Mr Chauvin(plus d'infos)
Jean-pierre Dumont(plus d'infos)
Summary :
During this sequence, students observe an anthill to study ants' food preferences.
Publication : 1 January 1998
Material :


- An anthill;

- Small matchboxes;

- Cotton, syringe containing water; 

- Various foods and materials to be chosen by children.

Note :
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We looked for small animals living in the school yard.

We found many:

some stinkbugs;.

many ants;

a ladybug;

The sinkbugs were placed in a terrarium but all died probably because of lack of moisture.
I brought  an anthill full of ants from different environment from the school yardto children.
After two observation days, a child suggested that food should be given to ants.

Students' proposals are:

  • bean seeds;
  • salad;
  • seeds;
  • insects;
  • ladybirds;
  • bread;
  • cheese;
  • jam;
  • earth;
  • sugar;
  • ham;
  • stones;

and they also suggested; "We must cut the food into small pieces; if not they will have stomach ache".

II-How to know what ants eat?

  • "We put it in the anthill".
  • "We put in the box because it is easier to open".
  • "We look at what they like"
  • "We observe them when they eat".


I propose that we put food in small open boxes (empty matchboxes for instance).
At the bottom of each of them, I write the name of the content. The boxes are placed in the “dining room”.

IV-Free observation at different times of the day


  • We have made a large table to say what ants ate:

    • "There were lots of ants on jam, they have almost eaten all".
    • "They have moved seeds but have not eaten them".
    • "The have eaten a little cheese".
    • "The have eaten a little ham cheese".
    • "All sugar has been eaten"

What do ants eat in our anthill?
Our experiments
  YES ? NO
sugar X    
salad     X
dead insects     X
pastry X    
soil     X
bean seeds     X
jam X    
ham X    
cheese   X  
bread   X  

(Collective table)

Note: We have not talked about water but every day, a student should wet the cotton in the anthill,  using the syringe.



VI-What do our documents say?


Work in small groups:
Search of corresponding documents.
A document on the nutrition of ants is chosen and read.
We write down and draw what ants eat.
Each group presents what they noted to the rest of the class.
We make a collective table.
Documentaries used:


  • "La fourmilière" Gallimard - Tournesol
  • "Mon premier copain des bois" Nathan
  • BT et BTJ sur les fourmis
  • "Les fourmis" Nathan

What we found in the books,

 ants can eat:

  • dead insects: fly, wasp, bee, grasshopper, ...
  • ants, grubs, caterpillars
  • honeydew of aphids, sugar.


VII- Let us compare what books say and what we saw

We could have tried to give other foods.

  • "Ants have not eaten dead flies"
  • "Ants have not eaten seeds"
  • "In the book, we don't find if ants eat jam".


What children learned while consulting the documents?


Ants do not eat the same things.
There are different species of ants.

VIII- Evaluation

"Circle what ants in our anthill prefer to eat ".




"Circle what ants in our anthill prefer eating ". May 98



Word from La main à la pâte: Ants have a relatively varied and mixed diet. They can adapt their diet resources to the environment that surrounds them. This classroom experiment cannot determine the diet of ants. We can however encourage students to have a critical look to compare what is found in the documents (e.g. preference of jam which is not found in nature). It may be interesting to observe the behaviour of ants. How do they detect food? Transport it? Eat it?