Can Ants Eat Plastics?

Ants can eat plastics although it is not part of their diet. Ants chew through the plastic as they try to reach food stored within the plastic casings. High energy foods such as sugar, fruits, and snacks are susceptible to ant attacks when poorly stored.

Remember to choose the right kind of plastic to prevent damage to food and other products that are stored in plastic.

Types of plastics that ants can chew through

There are about seven different types of plastics, each having unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses. 

You might find ants sneaking through plastic wrappings containing candy, bread, flour, and other typical ant food items. How the ants get there depends on the plastic quality, how you package/store your commodities, and the ant species involved.

Smaller ants can find and sneak through small ventilation holes in plastic wrappings, chew through thin plastics, etc.

Here are a few plastic types that ants occasionally chew through

1. Plastic wrappings 

Plastics wrappings are a popular choice when storing foods within your home. Common plastics have an average thickness of about 0.0005 inches and are made from PVC and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). 

Ants can chew through plastic wrappings with relative ease using their mandibles. The thin plastic layer provides little protection against large ant species, while the smaller ones can easily sneak through grooves and holes in the plastic to access food.

2. Light plastic

Plastics that are light or rather less thick are vulnerable to damage by ants who may chew through or erode them by continuously stinging the surface. Light plastic has a relative thickness of about 70 microns which makes it vulnerable to damage by mandibles or acids from the ant’s stings.

3. Electricity cable plastic coating

Electricity cable coatings are often made using plastics because the latter has good insulation qualities. The coatings are mainly made from plastisol, latex, neoprene, Polyurethane, etc.

However, the plastic coating is relatively soft and vulnerable to damage by ants. Some ants are notorious for chewing electricity insulation cables in sockets, bulbs, and other spaces where the wiring passes through.

Types of ants that can eat through plastics

There exist about 12,000 different ant species scattered all over the world. The insects feed on different products including seeds, plant leaves, nectar, other insects, etc. Plastic, however, is not part of an ants’ menu and the insects generally try to avoid the synthetic products unless they contain food.

Some ant species are notorious for invading people’s homes while on the hunt for food. The insects have a strong sense of smell that often leads them to kitchen shelves, storage cabinets, and other spaces where they are likely to find edible products. 

After finding food, the insects are willing to do whatever it takes (including attempting to chew through the wrappings) to access the sustenance and take it to the colony. 

Examples of ants that can eat through plastics include:

1. Africa Black Sugar Ant

The African black sugar ant (Lepisiota incisa) is an invasive species native to Africa that has been spotted in far-off regions such as Australia. The ants are relatively small and measure about 2-3mm in length. 

African black sugar ants are well adapted to living in high population areas (and have the ability to form super colonies with interconnected underground tunnels stretching for several kilometers).

African black sugar cants can sneak and chew through thin plastic to reach their food. You can find them inside poorly stored candy wrappings, sugar bowls, and other food items within your house. Although the ants don’t pose much of a health risk to humans and pets, they can be aggressive to other native ant species causing disruptions in the ecosystem.

2. Singapore Ant

The Singapore ant (Monomorium desctructor) is an invasive ant species that is common in many parts of the world. The ants have a light yellow to dark brownish yellow color complemented by a dark-colored abdomen.

Singapore ants have an average length of about 1.8-3.5mm and are well adapted to living in urban and suburban areas preferably close to water.

The ants form colonies within various spaces such as roof attics,  wall cavities, and electrical sockets within your home.

Singapore ants have a reputation for chewing through electrical wire plastics with some recorded instances blaming the species for several house fires and other electrical mishaps during the wet season when they are most active.

3. Red Ant

The red ant (Solenopsis geminata) is an insect species native to the Americas. The insect is easily recognizable owing to the bright copper-red coloration that makes it often mistaken for fire ants.

However, both species share several similarities including the ability to produce folic acid using a stringer. Red ants measure about 2-6mm in length and have about 4-5 distinct teeth per mandible. 

Places such as India consider the ants a delicacy and harvesters are known to endure painful bites when preparing ant chutney dishes. Red ants can also pose a problem, especially when allowed to form large colonies.

The ants can reach food stored through plastic by using their stingers to smear folic acid (which then melts/weakens the plastic covering) and allows the ants to reach their meal. 

You can find the ants outside, in underground mounds and lawn turfs with no visible openings on top. Red ants are highly aggressive when disturbed and their stings can leave a lasting sensation of pain on the affected party. It’s best to wear protective clothing and to exercise caution when dealing with the species.

4. Harvester Ant 

The harvester ant (Messor barbarus) is an ant species native to Southern Europe and parts of North Africa but has also spread to other parts of the world. The worker ants have an average length of 3-14 mm in size with large colones having larger-sized queens and soldiers. 

Harvester ants eat a variety of foods including insects, grains, fruits, etc. Farmers in the affected regions view the ants as a nuisance, especially during the planting season as the ants will regularly rais freshly sown spaces in search of seeds and grain.

In an urban environment, harvester ants can raid homes and other indoor spaces in the food search. The ants have a powerful bite and painful string that can easily tear through plastics to access the food material.

The ants also move their nests in response to changes in the environment and you might find their nests in different locations as they migrate.

It’s easy to locate a harvester ant’s nest, especially if it’s outside. Look for a bare patch of grass on your lawn and gently tap on its surface to disturb the colony and to check if the ants are still there. You can use a variety of techniques when dealing with ants, although it’s recommended to call a professional.

Can ants smell food through plastic?

Although ants have a keen sense of smell, they can’t detect food through plastic. Poorly wrapped plastic allows ants to easily locate their food and access it with relative ease considering their small size. 

It’s advisable to store food in strong airtight plastic to prevent the insects from easily accessing it. Thin and light plastic wrappings can only provide limited protection as the creatures are known to chew through certain plastics as they search for food.

How to stop ants from eating plastics

You can opt for several techniques when you are looking to stop ants from eating plastics within your home. Some of the options include:

  1. Keep the papers clean without any stains that may attract ants to them.
  2. Replace any plastics that are weak or those that have holes that ants can use to get into them.
  3. Refrigerate plastic packages that contain sweet food that can ring ants on the kitchen counters.
  4. Apply natural ant repellents like peppermint, vinegar, lemon juice, black pepper, or cinnamon on plastics to prevent ants from eating plastic wrappings and other materials within your space. Ants find the smell unappealing and keep away from your plastics.

Maggots in sealed plastic containers can attract ants in the kitchen especially if there is an infestation. Deal with ant colonies as soon as you notice them, but that would require the services of an exterminator or the use of insecticides and other chemicals.