Morphology of Ant Feeding Behaviors and Structures

Ants have mandibles that allow them to bite, cut, and carry any solid food that they find. The mandibles also allow ants to do nest maintenance by either digging, or removing things such as pebbles or debris or deceased colony members. The mandibles also are used to protect the colony from invaders. What is interesting is that although they have strong mandibles, many ants have adapted anatomical features in order to ingest primarily liquid food, whether it is protein or carbohydrate based. The pre-oral cavity is enclosed by the ants’ mouthparts. This is the initial food receptacle of the gut. Insects that are primarily liquid feeders have a food pocket called the crop and in the crop is a pumplike organ called a “cibarium???. The cibarium pump is a structure to help with liquids being consumed by the ant. The hypopharynx forms the posterior lobe of the ventral head and an invagination, or pocket, is formed by the hypopharynx. The common name for this fold or pocket is “crop???. The crop (interbuccal cavity) has small ridges and hairs that help filter out debris from the liquids being consumed by the ant. The crop in ants is also sometimes called a “social stomach??? due to its importance to their social behavior and success. It is interesting to note that the debris collected by the ridges and hairs is compacted into tiny pellets, which are later discarded.

Ant Feeding – Trophallaxis

When ants feed each other the process is called trophallaxis. The filters in the crop are used to remove the larger particles of debris from the liquid food before it is then regurgitated to fellow colony members. This process is sometimes called a social filter device. Liquids in the crop are continually filtered during trophallaxis. In trophallaxis, liquid food passes through the intrabuccal cavity and flows through a tube into the pharynx and then through the esophagus to the crop. The crop is attached to the proventriculus, which is a chitin-reinforced valve that regulates the food passing to the ant midgut. Once the food passes into the midgut it cannot be regurgitated. In trophallaxis to the larvae, the amount of food that can be transferred is limited by the diameter of the larva’s esophagus. The filtration of debris in the crop is very important to development of immature stages of ants, and if too much debris is consumed it would damage the larval digestive tract. In trophallaxis between adult stage ants, it is interesting to note that the motion and touch of the antennae of the ants that are interacting with each other dictates initiation of the transfer of food from one to the other. The tapping of different areas will incite different responses. Several studies have indicated that this antennal interaction is similar to the “bee dance??? that is done to communicate the location of nectar or pollen to the rest of the workers in the hive. Trophallaxis is key in maintaining the health of a colony, as it is impossible for the larvae to venture out of the nest to find their own food. Trophallaxis is important in the control of nuisance ant populations. By providing baits in solid or liquid form, the materials used could be helpful in reducing the population of foraging ants and their nest mates.

Implications of Ant Feeding and Tropallaxis for Ant Treatment Options

Non-repellent materials sprayed in areas where ants forage that are slow acting may be very effective against ant invaders because the insect will clean herself after contacting the chemical that has been laid down, ingesting it in her crop. She will proceed back to the nest to regurgitate this material when feeding the queen or the larvae of her colony, and they will be affected, even though they did not contact the chemical themselves. As a side note, trophallaxis in bees is the reason that there is much concern for pesticides being used in field crops close to where beehives are located. Bees visit areas that have been treated, ingest the chemical, and take it back to the hive where all colony members may become affected by a material sprayed miles away from the hive location. Other materials that can be used in baits include various borate formulations, juvenile hormones that interrupt development into the adult stage, and other classes of chemicals such as Abamectin (avermectin B1) which is derived from soil bacteria and causes inhibition of reproduction. In keeping with integrated pest management standards of the industry, the use of baits to help manage ant populations is a useful tool to minimize chemical exposure to non-target species. Always follow label directions and be aware of bodies of water or other chemical sensitive areas so as to avoid contaminating sensitive areas. Call today at 1-800-986-1006 for help with an ant infestation. You’re also welcome to complete the form below and a caring Hearts Pest Management representative will contact you shortly.
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