What Do Ants Eat in The Rainforest?

The rainforest is known for its incredible wildlife and the seemingly endless list of different animal, insect, and arachnid species. You may be surprised to learn that ants are, in fact, the most prevalent and abundant of all the animals in the rainforest.

Most ant species in the rainforest eat vegetation and sap, while other species eat other ants and smaller insects. Ants in the rainforest are also known to eat fungi, pollen, and other microscopic organisms found in their climate regions.

There is an indefinite number of ant species in the rainforest. One researcher is known to have discovered 200 different species of ants on one tree. They are critical to maintaining the ecosystem of the rainforests and play a vital role in the livelihood of both the animals and the plants found there. From the removal of waste from the rainforest floor to their varied diets to aerating soils for enhanced plant growth, the many species of ants are an essential element to the rainforest.

Let’s walk through some major ant species and what they eat.

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Different Rainforest Ant Species Have Different Diets

There is no shortage of ant species found in the tropical rainforest. E.O. Wilson, a well respected and renowned researcher, is said to have once discovered over 200 different species on a single tree. Each species contributes to the delicate ecosystem in its own way and is known to have different diets and processes by which they hunt for and produce their food.

Army Ants

Army ants themselves have hundreds of individual species within themselves. These ants hunt in packs, following each other in a straight line that resembles soldiers marching, giving them their military influenced name.

Army ants eat just about anything and are predominantly carnivorous. Because they travel in such large numbers, they are able to take down any prey that gets into their path easily. Army ants eat other ants, insects, and various small animals such as birds, snakes, frogs, lizards, and a wide variety of other smaller animals.

Bullet Ants

Though not deadly to humans, a bite from a Bullet ant is said to be so painful that it feels like you’ve been shot with a bullet. Bullet ants are incredibly large in size, reaching 1.2 inches, and are one of the most well-known species of the Amazon Rainforest.

Bullet ants are commonly found crawling up the large trees of the rainforest. While their nests are found low in the ground, their diet requires them to travel high up into the rainforest’s canopy to find food.

A Bullet ant’s diet mostly consists of tree sap, nectars, and sugar water found in the rainforest canopy. They are also known to hunt prey at night of mainly other insects, ants, caterpillars, and arachnids.

Leafcutter Ants

Perhaps one of the most impressive species of ant is the Leafcutter ant. These ants essentially “grow” their own food source, which is why they are sometimes referred to as the gardener of ants.

Leafcutter ants forage the rainforest for leaves that they carry back to their nests. These leaves are the foundation of a very specified fungus garden that the Leafcutters eat as their regular diet. Once the fungus is growing on leaves, more leaves will be chewed down by these ants into a sticky paste that is then used as food for the fungus.

Azteca Ants

The Azteca ant has an interesting diet stemming from its relationship with where it calls home. These ants build their nests only in Cecropia trees. The ants rely heavily on these trees to not only provide them a place to nest but also as their only source of food.

Azteca ants feed only on the secretions and nectar of the Cecropia tree and are responsible for the tree’s protection. These ants will kill any vine or plant that grows on the tree as well as attack any other insect or animal that tries to land on or inhabit the tree.

Twig Ants

Named for their elongated bodies and color, these ants are generally non-aggressive and make their nests in trees and hollow branches. Their choice in living conditions makes it easy to forage for live insects that satisfy their mostly carnivorous diet.

Twig ants predominantly eat moths and butterflies but are known to hunt for other insects. A few species of these ants will also periodically include fungus in their diets.

Weaver Ants

These ants are most known for their impressive nests. Using a silk-like substance that is created from their larvae, the Weaver ants “weave” leaves together into huge tent-like structures.

Weaver ants are a carnivorous species that can kill and eat most small animals and insects and will carry them back to their nests in small pieces. They are also known to periodically supplement their diets with honeydew and other nectars.

Some Ant and Plant Species Have Evolved To Mutually Provide For Each Other

One of the fascinating phenomena in nature is the co-evolutionally mutualism that develops between some ant species and trees and plants. The rainforest has many examples of this incredible relationship being developed.

Essentially, co-evolutionary mutualism is when an insect species and plant species evolve over time to co-exist and essentially “help” each other’s species flourish in their environments. The rainforest has some of the most impressive examples of these types of unlikely pairings.

Devil’s Garden

Throughout the Amazon rainforest, there are oddly manicured and meticulously kept gardens featuring only one type of tree, the Duroia hirsute tree. For centuries, it was reported that evil spirits, or the Devil himself, was responsible for the seemingly impossibly well-maintained areas surrounding these trees.

Studies have shown that ants, specifically Myrmelachista schumanni ants, are, in fact, keeping all other vegetation at bay to allow for the trees to grow taller, stronger, and more plentiful. They are essentially allowing for both the plant species and by default the ants themselves to continue to expand. When the ants chew and bite on the encroaching vegetation, they inject the plant with formic acid, which completely kills the vegetation and stops its growth.


Other plants throughout the rainforest have become known as “ant-plants.” These plants have evolved over the years to produce specific secretions, saps, and nectars solely to feed the ant species that nest inside them.

The ants, to return the favor, and in participation in these mutual relationships, provide safety to the tree. This happens by ants eating damaging insects, killing vines and overgrowth, and scaring off other species from making their homes on or inside their trees.

The term ant-plant is a general term as there are quite a few examples of these types of vegetation. One example is the Turnera velutina. These plants are generally the home to a particularly aggressive species of ant, the Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus.

While the ants offer the protection against the overgrowth of competing plants and animals that would otherwise eat it, the plant then produces food for the ants as well as hollow thorns perfect for their colonies to nest.

Studies have found that when this plant is inhabited by a less aggressive specie of ant and is given inadequate protection, it will fail to provide the same amenities.

The Perfect Pairing of Ants and the Rainforest

Like many species of ants that can be found in the rainforest, there are equally as many food options available. The diets of the different species of ants are varied and can range from carnivorous and sometimes cannibalistic to eating plants and even growing their own sustainable fungi gardens.

Ants and their diets and behaviors directly impact the state of every rainforest they inhabit.