Do Ants Get Sick? The Surprising Truth About Ant Health

Ants have been around for over 130 million years and are known for their incredible teamwork and industriousness. With their communal living and meticulous grooming, it is easy to assume that ants are free from any illnesses. But do ants get sick? In this article, we will dive into the surprising truth behind ant health and explore some common questions surrounding the topic.

Ants and Disease

Ants, just like any other living creature, are susceptible to various diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. The ant’s immune system is not as effective as ours, so they are particularly vulnerable to diseases. Ants are social creatures that live in large, densely-populated colonies, which makes them susceptible to disease outbreaks. Some diseases can wipe out entire ant colonies.

There are different ways that ants can catch and spread diseases. One common way is through contact with diseased ants. Some ants have a specialized role in the colony, such as cleaners or undertakers, whose job is to remove dead ants or debris from the colony. When they come into contact with infectious agents, they can bring the disease back to the colony and spread it to their nestmates. Another way for ants to catch diseases is through contaminated food or water sources.

Do Ants Have an Immune System?

The answer is yes. Ants have an immune system, but it is not as advanced as ours. Unlike humans, ants do not have antibodies that can recognize and neutralize specific pathogens. Instead, ants rely on a set of general antimicrobial peptides that can kill a broad range of microorganisms. These peptides are produced by cells called hemocytes and can be found in the ant’s hemolymph, which is the equivalent of our blood.

Ants also have behavioral adaptations that help protect them from diseases. Social grooming is a common behavior among ants, where they clean each other’s bodies using their mouthparts or legs. This grooming behavior helps to remove fungal spores and other pathogens from their body surface.

What Are Some Common Ant Diseases?

Ants can contract various diseases, and some of the most common ones include:

  • Metarhizium fungus – A fungus that infects ants and can cause them to become zombie-like and die.
  • Acute bee paralysis virus – A virus that can infect carpenter ants and cause their legs to become paralyzed.
  • Nosema fungus – A fungus that infects the midgut of ants and causes diarrhea and death.
  • Aphid-transmitted diseases – Some species of aphids can transmit bacterial and fungal infections to ants when they feed on honeydew secreted by the ants.

Ants and Antibiotics

Studies have shown that some ants can use natural antibiotics to protect their colony from diseases. Leafcutter ants, for example, cultivate antibiotic-producing bacteria on their bodies and use them to protect their fungus gardens from harmful pathogens. Some species of ants also use resin from certain trees to disinfect their nests and protect them from fungal infections.

Do Ants Vaccinate Their Young?

Yes. Some ants have been found to vaccinate their larvae against diseases. When ants detect the presence of a pathogen in their colony, they will collect the pathogens and bring them back to the nest. They will then present these pathogens to their larvae, which triggers an immune response, making the larvae resistant to the disease.


Ants are not free from diseases, and they can catch and spread various illnesses. However, ants have evolved a few strategies to help them protect their colonies from infections, such as social grooming, natural antibiotics, and vaccinating their young. With their incredible teamwork and adaptability, ants will continue to thrive and survive in their various habitats around the world.


Can ants catch human diseases?

No. There is no evidence that ants can catch or transmit human diseases.

Can ants survive diseases?

It depends on the type of disease and how severe it is. Some diseases can wipe out entire ant colonies, while others may only affect a few individuals.

How do you know if an ant is sick?

There are different signs that an ant could be sick, such as abnormal behavior, lethargy, or unusual spots on their body. However, it’s not always easy to tell if an ant is sick without proper diagnostic tests.

Can I get sick from ants?

It’s rare, but some ants can cause allergic reactions or transmit diseases to humans. It’s best to avoid handling ants or being bitten by them.

Why do ants die when they are sick?

When an ant is sick, it may become weak and unable to care for itself or its nestmates. In some cases, the ants may isolate the sick individual to prevent the disease from spreading further. If the disease is severe, the ant may eventually die.



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