Is it a good idea to test if ants are attracted to more natural or artificial odors? (Whitney)

Hi there,

I'm doing a project for my comparative psychology class on ants. I'd like to see if ants are more attracted to more natural foods, such as other insects and fruits, or artificially flavored snacks, like we all have in our pantry. My instructor thought it would be a good idea to find out if ants are attracted to more natural or artificial odors. What do you think?


Hi Whitney!

Testing the food preferences of ants sounds like a great idea! And it is definitely interesting to see whether ants prefer natural or artificially flavored foods. We have written two previous post (here and here) that might give you some ideas on how to design your experiment.

One thing you should keep in mind: When you test some natural food (e.g. a piece of banana) against some artificially flavored food (e.g. Cheetos), you will just be able to make the conclusion "Ants prefer the bananas over the Cheetos" (or vice versa), but you have no proof that it is due to the artificial flavor. It could be due to something else. You can still summarize your findings - ants might have preferred different artificial food items 10 times and the different natural food items only 2 times - and suggest that this might be due to the artificial flavor. But you would have no definite causal explanation as you don't have a real good control (this would be, for example, an artificial banana vs. a natural banana).

Basically, there are two set-ups for offering different foods to ants: binary choice experiments (where you offer 2 different food items simultaneously) or cafeteria style experiments (multiple choice experiments, where you offer several different food items simultaneously). You can either test several ants at the same time or test each ant individually. You should always test the ants' preferences at the same time (e.g. 5 min after you first offered the food) and testing at around the same time of day would be a good idea. To avoid position effects, you should alter the order of the food items offered after each round of experiments.

I hope this helps and please let us know if you have any additional questions!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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