How Do Ants Communicate? Can They Talk To Each Other? Find Out Here

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Feb 01, 2023 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 25, 2021
Ants carrying a leaf.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.3 Min

There are as many as 10,000 recognized ant species in the world.

Ants (Formicidae) are common social insects that can be usually found inhabiting tropical forests. They live in groups or colonies and can be seen traveling together.

Each colony will contain a queen, female workers, and reproductive males. The males are tasked with the job to mate with future queens, whose sole purpose is to lay eggs and procreate. The nonbreeding ants are segregated into worker ants and soldier ants.

Soldier ants protect the queen and keep the colony safe from outside attack. Sometimes they may also invade another ant colony to expand their territory and acquire nesting space.

Worker ants, on the other hand, look after the young, build anthills, and gather food. Depending on the species of ant, a colony can have more than one queen and up to a million or more ants! Ants are considered as nothing more than a nuisance and pest to humans.

They invade our home and feast on all things sweet and savory. But disliking them doesn't make them any less interesting, and their method of communication is especially fascinating.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about how do amphibians breathe? And how do animals hibernate? Here on Kidadl.

How do ants communicate with each other?

It can be quite baffling to understand how ants communicate with one another. They obviously cannot talk nor can they use their limbs for signs and signals.

Their eyes are not expressive or advanced enough to send messages to other individuals either. So, this raises the question do these insects communicate at all? If they do, how do they achieve it?

Unlike humans, ants cannot communicate through speech or language. They cannot engage in complex storytelling and they don't have the capacity to listen and respond either.

However, it is common knowledge that ant colonies are extremely organized and their way of life is carefully mapped out.

Each member of the colony has an assigned task and they abide by their duties religiously. It may seem that ants are plagued with many communication barriers but they have learned to use their touch, scent (pheromones), body language, smell, and sound to successfully participate in the process of communication.

What are the ways used by ants to communicate?

Ants are extremely meticulous by behavior otherwise it would be near impossible for them to maintain such well-organized colonies. This social insect must be able to send quick messages to each other when they sense danger or when they have to hunt for food.

But since ants cannot use speech to communicate, they have to use different senses and body parts to converse.

One of the most prominent and important ways via which an ant communicates is with the help of unique chemicals called pheromones. These chemicals or pheromones are used extensively and for multiple purposes by the species.

It can be used to leave chemical trails that will lead to food sources and also send a distress call when the ant finds itself in danger.

Ants communicate with touch, motion, and body language as well. When a worker ant finds a credible food resource, its first task will be to mark the site with a trail of pheromones that will connect the source to its nest or home.

Once that has been achieved, the ant will try to share its discovery with the first ant it comes across. The ant will touch its antennae (sensory appendages present on the head) and move its body to relay the message.

Ants can also communicate with sound, however, it remains imperceptible to humans because of its low resonance. They typically scrape their legs or rub two parts of their abdomen together to create sound signals that sound a lot like chirping. This process is called stridulation.

Ants communicate with taste when it comes to foraging. If you carefully study or follow a line of ants heading back home or to its nest, you may find two or more ants constantly bump into one another.

This process that the insects participate in is called trophallaxis, which essentially means sharing food or communicating mouth-to-mouth. Sometimes they share a small sample of the food they have found with other members to confirm its authenticity.

Close up the power of stronger ants action building leaves home.

How do ants communicate danger?

It is very important that ants know how to communicate in danger because the tiny animal keeps finding itself in trouble time and again. Sometimes it is because humans consider it a pest and other times when they find themselves attacked by another ant colony.

Ants use chemical signals called pheromones to communicate in different ways but it comes especially handy when they are in danger. If an ant feels threatened it will release distress signals in the form of pheromones, which will alert nearby ants and the members of its colony of imminent danger.

Depending on the threat, the members will then decide whether to swarm and attack or simply flee.

Their ability to use scent and sounds is also rather convenient in the face of danger. If an ant finds itself trapped and unable to escape, sending pheromone signals would be of little help. Under such circumstances, the species can create sounds to create a distress call that will be detectable to its colony even through walls.

How do ants communicate about food?

Although we humans consider the ant species as nothing more than a pest because of their habit to feed on our food, these insects do actually have a rather tough time locating food that is safe for consumption.

So, once they have found something promising they must hurry and communicate the same with the other members of the colony at the earliest.

Once again ants communicate where food is with the help of their unique chemical called pheromones. Upon finding a suitable food item, the worker ant will leave behind a pheromone trail that will connect the food site to its nest.

Other workers will smell this pheromone trail with the help of their antennae and follow it directly to locate their forage. The smell of the pheromones will be so strong to the members of its colony that within minutes the site will be swarming with ants.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do ants communicate? Then why not take a look at how do birds find worms, or how do clams reproduce.

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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