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To Which Flavor Are Ants Most Attracted?

Researched by Elisa B. 


The purpose of this experiment was to determine which flavor ants are most attracted to.

I first became interested in this idea when I found ants crawling over various food items like a fruit snack and dog food. 

The information gained from this experiment can help people with ants living in their homes to uncover natural, effective ant bait. Homeowners with ant problems spend many dollars per year to try do get rid of ants. It would cost consumers much less just to use common, around-the-house substances. 



My hypothesis is that the ants will be most attracted to a sweet flavor rather than the other flavors sour, salty, bitter, or control (water).

I base my hypothesis on the results of an interview with an employee of Weaver Exterminating Service who said that ants are generally attracted to sugar and other sweet compounds. I also base my hypothesis on personal experiences and encounters that I have had with ants. 




The constants in this study were: 
  -Size of bread piece 
  -Kind of bread 
  -External temperature of testing area 
  -Time of day observations and measurements are made 
  -Time of day food was replaced 
  -Amount of solution on piece of bread. 
-Source of ants 
All ants were kept in the same environment and have equal access to all five flavors.

The manipulated variable was the flavor of the solution that was dropped on the bread squares.

The responding variable was the number of ants attracted to each flavor.

To measure the responding variable I took pictures of the ants at pre-planned time intervals.  Then I took a count of the ants that were at each station in each picture. 




200   Ants
1 loaf  White Bread
Glass Terrarium
Digital Camera
amount n/a Sand (for Ants’ Habitat)
amount n/a  Leaves (for Ants’ Habitat)
25 squares  Tin foil (3cm by 3cm)
1 Eye dropper
1 10 mL Graduated Cylinder
1 Magnetic Stirrer
1 Water bath (warm)

500 grams 
Deionized water

Sodium Chloride


.15 grams 
Citric acid

.15 grams




A. Preparing the terrarium with a habitat suitable for ants

 1) Put 3 centimeters of sand, soil and beauty bark mixture in the bottom. 
2) Place moist, rotting wood in random locations inside the terrarium. 
3) Spray water on the sand to form a more suitable sand texture for the ant colony.

B. Preparing the solutions and bread slices 
To achieve the following flavors, make these solutions by following the next steps.

1) Solution 1: SWEET flavor- 5% Sucrose: Dissolve 5.0 grams of sucrose into 95.0 grams of deionized water. Warm up solution to mix. 
2) Solution 2: SOUR flavor- 0.15% Citric Acid: Mix 0.15 grams of citric acid with 99.85 grams of deionized water. Using a magnetic stirrer, slowly mix the solution. 
3) Solution 3: SALTY flavor- 1.0% Sodium Chloride: Dissolve 1.0 grams of sodium chloride into 99.0 grams of deionized water.   Warm up solution to mix. 
4) Solution 4: BITTER flavor- 0.15% Caffeine: Mix .15 grams of caffeine with 99.85 grams of deionized water. 
5) Solution 5: NO flavor (control)- 100% Deionized Water: 100 grams of deionized water. 
6) Cut five squares of bread 2cm by 2cm and (1) centimeter thick. 
7) Drop 0.5 milliliter (13 drops) of sweet solution onto a bread square using an eyedropper.  
8) Flip square over and drop 0.5 mL (13 drops) of solution on that side.  
9) Repeat steps seven and eight using the sour, bitter, salty and control solutions on separate pieces of bread. 
10) Cut 25 squares of tin foil each 6cm by 6cm. 
11) Place squares of bread on top of tin foil and put ants into terrarium. 
12) Every two hours, record the number of ants on each bread square, then take 1 picture with the digital camera. 
13) Repeat steps six through eleven three times each day for five days.

C. Following steps six through eleven, change the bread squares at each station after 24 hours of exposure to the ants.

D. Analyzing Data  
1) At 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00 pictures were taken. Names/Dates were added to pictures as soon as they were processed. 
2) This process was repeated after each day with the trial pictures. 
3) Averages were taken of each station’s data after the testing period is completely over. 
4)       Graph all results. 




The original purpose of this experiment was to determine which flavor ants were attracted to most. 

The results of the experiment were that the ants were attracted to the sweet flavored bread square more than any of the other flavors, but on a rare occasion they would visit the sour, bitter, and salty squares.  They also did not visit the control (water) station often, in fact I only observed one ant at this station in the entire experiment.

Please take a look at the graph to see the results.



My hypothesis was that the ants would prefer the sweet flavor to the other flavors: sour, bitter, salty, and control.

The results indicate that this hypothesis should be accepted.

Because of the results of this experiment, I wonder if the ants would prefer a sweet liquid to a sweet flavored solid. I also wonder if this same result would occur for other "pest" insects, like termites or cockroaches.

If I were to conduct this project again I would try different substances and carriers for the different flavors. I might have attempted to determine whether the ants preferred a viscous (gel-like) liquid versus a non-viscous (watery) liquid.  Observing more ants and observing them for a longer duration of time would make the experiment more reliable. 





Ants belong to an order of insects called Hymenoptera; this group also includes bees, wasps, and sawflies. They belong to the insect family Formicidae meaning ‘ant family’. There are over 60 genre existing in North America comprising hundreds of different species on this continent alone. 

Ant Species 
There are many different kinds of ants all over the world. Some kinds of ants among the best known are: fire ants, army ants, carpenter ants, driver ants, harvester ants, weaver ants, fungus- gardening ants, aphid- tending ants, honeypot ants, and acacia ants.

Ants can be found in many places such as soil, leaf litter, rotting wood and dead trees. Ants live all over the world, except for the Arctic and Antarctic and some islands, also on the coldest mountain tops. They are most abundant in the tropical rainforests and other tropical regions.

Colony Life 
All ants are social. In fact they are the only insects in which all species are social. Large groups of ants live in colonies or communities together.  In the majority of ants, colonies are families or groups of related families. These groups consist of one or more queens, who rule the colony, and males, whose only job is to fertilize the queen and then die soon after. The workers in the colony are only females. These workers are divided into several working classes including: enlargement and repair of the nest, taking care of the larvae, tending to the queen, defending the colony, and foraging for food. 

The shape of the ant head can be oval shaped, spherical, triangular or even rectangular; it differs among species. All ants have an opening in the back of their head, through which the beginning of the digestive tract, nerves and blood pass through. Inside the mouth are three different parts. The mandibles, or jaws, are long and broad and are toothed, or serrated. Ants use their mandibles for collecting and carrying food, digging, building nests, cutting and fighting. The maxillae, or lower jaws, are used to extract liquids from foods. Ants use their tongues for sucking up the liquid food. Also two pairs of slender palpi are inside the mouth, that resemble antennae, and play an important role in eating. 

 Ants have two compound eyes each are made of light-sensitive compartments called ommatidia. Other types of ants have three simple eyes called ocelli on the tops of their heads. Different species have developed sight, but some are completely blind. Vision is rather unimportant to ants because they spend much of their time underground anyway.

At the front of the head is a pair of antennae, which contain organs of taste, smell and touch. 
Most ants’ antennae are elbow-shaped, somewhat like a human arm. An ant’s main source of information is its pair of antennae. Ants use their antennae to find out about their surroundings.

Joined to the head is the middle part of the body known as the alitrunk. Attached to the alitrunk are three pairs of legs. Each leg is jointed and has a claw at the end; used for gripping hard to grasp surfaces. The legs are not only used for walking and running, but also more skillful tasks, including handling food and carrying supplies. The two front legs have miniature combs used for cleaning the ant and its antennae. In males and young queens, the alitrunk holds two pairs of wings inside.

Just behind the alitrunk is the narrow petiole. The petiole is usually a two- segmented section that appears to be a waist. This body part aids the ant when it is going through winding underground passageways.

The gaster is the hindmost section of the ant. The gaster contains the heart, most of the digestive system, the reproductive system and the excretory system. When an ant’s digestive system is full of food, the gaster expands by ballooning out.

Some and species hunt different insects, others collect seeds. Honeypot ants cultivate certain insects that the ants "milk" in order to obtain a sweet substance known as honeydew. A few species even grow their own fungi gardens to feed upon.

Adult ants are able to digest only liquid foods. Ants that obtain food from solids first have to mix digestive juices into the food to help dissolve it, then use their tongues to lap up the resulting juices and semiliquid food. Inside the mouth, any leftover solid foods enter a chamber beneath the mouth opening. Within the chamber lies a series of screens, which filter out the solid food and turn it into a solid pellet that the ant soon removes from its mouth. From the mouth, the food is passed into an organ called the crop, which is an expandable sack in which liquids can be stored for long periods of time without being digested. Once the ant reaches the colony it regurgitates most of the food for other workers to eat. A valve called the proventriculus in the inner section of the crop lets a trickle of food pass into the ant’s mid-gut, where it can be digested.


  •  Sucrose was added to deionized water, to obtain a sweet flavor.
  •  When mixed with deionized water, Sodium chloride created a salty flavor. 
  •  Citric acid added to deionized water made a sour flavor.
  •  When Caffeine was mixed with deionized water, it resulted in a bitter flavor.
  • Deionized water was the substance that was considered control

Although ants are sometimes considered a household pest, they are able to perform many necessary functions inside ecosystems. Ants turn soil, move nutrients and organic matter, scatter seeds, serve as food for larger animals, and sometimes pollinate flowers. Many species dig underground nests with several openings and passageways. Air and water can pass through these tunnels, providing oxygen and moisture for plant roots. Ants play a very important part in our world.  



All About Ants [online] available 
December 20,1999

Ants [online] available  
October 19,1999

Ants [online] available  
November 9,1999

Carlin, Norman F. "Ant" WorldBook Encyclopedia, 1995 Vol. 1-A Pp. 520-528

Greenland, Caroline. "Ants" Natures Children Series: Sherman Turnpike, Danbury, CT., Grolier Educational Corporation, 1986

Tschinkel, Walter R. "Ant" Microsoft Encarta 2000, 2000

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