Can Ants Swim? (Or Will They Drown)

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:52 pm

Ants are considered to be extremely robust and extraordinary animals. They can lift many times their body weight and are non-stop at work during the day. Ants also populate other parts of the earth and can be found almost everywhere.

Do you have a small stream next to your garden and wonder if the ants on the other side can cross it? Then find out now if ants can swim.

How ants cross the water

Can Ants Swim? (Or Will They Drown)

Ants only really feel at home on land. There, they can travel long distances and access distant food sources.

On water, ants are less at home. They are too small to move around consciously. Nevertheless, this does not mean that water is certain death.

Ants are so small that they do not sink because of surface tension. So they are on the surface of the water and float there.

Only in larger species that are more familiar with water, such as in tropical regions, some species are able to move over short distances. For example, they can escape to the near shore to avoid drowning.

The fire ant, for example, has developed an interesting way of locomotion. If the entire ant colony is in search of a new location, the animals form a kind of raft together. In this bundle, they are able to float on the water and cover greater distances.

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However, according to the general definition, ants are not able to swim. They are too small and do not break the surface tension.

The respiration of ants

Although the ant is not at home on the water, it has an advantage over other animals when it comes to breathing. This is because it does not have lungs, but has a large number of openings. It is through these holes that the ant takes in oxygen and breathes.

If the ant is on the water, it does not get into the holes. The holes are too small for the surface tension to be broken. In addition, the air prevents water from entering.

Können Ameisen schwimmen

Can ants dive?

If the ant does find itself under water, this does not mean certain death. As described, the ant has enough oxygen in its body so that it can survive under water for a short time.

However, as with humans, the amount of carbon dioxide increases over time. The oxygen is used up and the ant must surface to “catch its breath” again. If the ant gets under water, it does not drown but literally suffocates.

Only a few genera are known to be able to dive consciously. Normally, the ant wants to stay far away from the water and avoid diving.

How long does an ant survive under water?

How long the ant survives underwater depends on its body type and metabolism. The faster the oxygen is depleted, the more quickly the animal suffocates.

For ants, the survival time under water ranges from a few minutes to as long as 14 days. Forest ants are able to absorb oxygen from the water and in this way do not suffocate. This is a natural defense mechanism to protect themselves from flooding. Therefore, forest ants feel comfortable in forests and swamps without perceiving the regular flooding as disturbing.

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Can ants be controlled with water?

Unlike the forest ant, most ants are impressed by water. Especially in the early days of the nest, it is designed in such a way that there is hardly any protection. Only in the course of building the nest, protected cavities are created, in which hardly any water penetrates.

If you want to fight ants in your garden, water proves to be effective. Destroy any attempts at nest building with your garden hose and the ants will move on to another location. While this will not directly kill most ants, since they cannot swim, the water poses a great danger. As with most small insects, ants prefer to find another location and avoid the flooding.

The swimming ants

Now the question: “Can ants swim” should be sufficiently answered. The small insects are not able to move actively on the water surface. Since they do not break the surface tension at all, they drift helplessly there.

Some genera are also able to form a raft to withstand flooding together as a colony of ants. Usually, ants feel more comfortable on land, where they can walk and move around deliberately.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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