If you’re suffering from an ant infestation and want to know whether you can simply drown them – or maybe if you just have a particularly curious disposition – at some point, you may have wondered about ants’ ability to hold their breath.
The question is a fascinating one, and the answer will tell you much about how ants live and how you can kill them – and to help you understand everything you need to know, in this post we answer the question, how long can ants hold their breath?
How Long Can Ants Hold Their Breath?
The question of how long ants can hold their breath is a little more complicated than it might first seem, but let’s start by giving a simple answer to the question.
So how long can they hold their breath? Well, it depends on the species, but in general, ants can hold their breath for around 24 hours.
But the thing is, ants don’t really breathe in the same sense that we do, so now let’s have a look at this question in a bit more detail.
How do ants and other insects breathe?
Ants – and other insects – don’t have lungs, so they can’t be said to breathe in the same sense as many other animals, including us.
However, they still need oxygen to allow them to convert food and water into energy, so how do they do it?
The answer is that all insects have tiny holes in their bodies called “spiracles”. Air is allowed to pass through the spiracles, and the oxygen in the air is then delivered directly to the insect’s tissues.
However, ants and many other insects can also close these spiracles when necessary, for example, if they are submerged in water.
This can be done to prevent water from entering the spiracles (the same can also be done to prevent the ant from losing water through the spiracles), and since ants need far less oxygen than we do, the spiracles can remain closed for up to around 24 hours.
This means, for example, if an ant finds itself underwater, it still has ample time to reach the surface before it drowns.
How do ants deal with water and floods?
Speaking of water, ants have developed some interesting techniques and adaptations for dealing with water, which, as we’ll see in a moment, is pertinent when thinking about how to eradicate a nest from your property.
First of all, although ants can’t swim, since they are so tiny, surface tension means they can effectively walk on water. This means if there’s a flood, they can remain on top of the water and simply float away rather than being submerged.
Fire ants take things to another level, though.
When they are faced with a flood, they can quickly build a living raft with their bodies, and due to the same physics of surface tension, the raft will float.
Then, once the raft has formed, the queen and the larvae are carried to the center of the raft, out of harm’s way. This whole process can be completed in a couple of minutes, ensuring the safety of the queen and the survival of the colony.
Another type of ant, a species known as Polyrhachis Sokolova has an even more amazing adaptation for surviving in floodwaters.
This species of ant lives in mangroves, and researchers discovered that in the mangroves of Australia’s Darwin Harbour, the ants built nests that included S-bends, creating air pockets that allowed them to survive for days on end each time the nest flooded.
Another type of ant, Colobopsis schmitzi, from the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, is known to dive into the waters of the local pitcher plants in search of food trapped inside. For this reason, this species has acquired the common names “diving ant” and “swimming ant”.
So will water kill ants?
These fun facts might be interesting to know, but what does all this mean in practical terms?
Well, the first and most obvious point is that if you have an ant problem in your yard, you won’t be able to kill them simply by pouring a load of water into their nest.
For this to be effective at all, you would need to completely submerge the nest for over 24 hours, and since the water will just drain away – and this would require a huge amount of water – it’s simply not a practical way of killing ants.
If you try, the ants will simply close their spiracles, hold their breath and wait for the waters to recede.
What are some other options for killing ants?
So if water won’t kill ants and rid you of your problem, then what will?
Here are some of your options:
1. Boiling water
While water at room temperature won’t drown ants, boiling water will certainly do the job because the high temperatures will kill them. This means if you pour boiling water into an ant nest, there’s a good chance of killing a good proportion of them.
However, you can still never be sure that you’re going to get them all, so you might need to repeat the treatment several times over the course of a few days.
And of course, if you have lawn grass or any other plants where you pour the boiling water, those will all likely die too.
2. Soapy water
Another more effective option is to use soapy water instead.
This works because the soap in the water sticks to the ants’ spiracles, blocking them up. This means that the ants won’t be able to breathe, and over the next 24 hours or so, they will all eventually suffocate, suffering a slow and unpleasant death.
At the same time, the soap will also cause the ants’ membranes to dissolve, causing them to lose water and die, making soapy water a simple yet surprisingly effective method of ant control.
To do this, you just need to prepare a bucket of water and mix it with some regular dish soap or something similar.
The advantage of this is that it will leave your plants unharmed, and this technique will also be effective with many other species of bug.
3. Chalk powder
Soapy water is highly effective, but if you want to try something different, you can also opt for chalk powder, and this works in a similar way.
When ants get covered in chalk powder, it blocks their spiracles, preventing them from breathing – and again, after a day or so, they will suffocate to death.
Incidentally, this is also why ants won’t walk through chalk powder, so if you want to keep ants off your table while you dine outside, spreading a circle of chalk powder around your table will keep them at bay.
4. White vinegar and water
If you don’t have chalk powder, you can also try a mixture of white vinegar and water in a ratio of 1:3 vinegar to water. Mix them together and pour the solution into the nest – and repeat several times over the coming days to wipe out the colony.
5. Diatomaceous earth
Sprinkling diatomaceous earth over an ant nest will kill them because it causes the ants’ exoskeletons to dissolve.
6. Borax powder
Borax powder sprinkled over an ant nest may also be an effective way of killing them all off.
Sprinkling table salt over an ant nest or mixing salt with water and pouring it in should also kill them. This works by dehydrating the ants.
However, this may also kill any vegetation and render your soil infertile.
8. Essential oils
Some essential oils are thought to be disagreeable to ants and may be effective at killing them or driving them away. Try mixing up a solution of water with a few drops of something like peppermint or clove oil and then pour it into the nest.
But do you really want to remove all the ants from your yard or garden?
Before you try any of the above techniques, there’s something you should be aware of – ants are not necessarily a pest species and are actually beneficial to your yard or garden.
This is because they keep other pests under control while not causing any damage or other problems themselves.
This means if you kill all the ants in your yard, you may find that the other pests multiply rapidly, wreaking havoc with your plants and flowers.
And besides, a new colony of ants will soon move in anyway, so unless you want to be at war with your resident ants in perpetuity, it might be better just to let them be.
Can you suffocate an ant by putting it in a jam jar?
Although ants need air to breathe, they require far less oxygen than us, and the air in a jam jar will be enough to keep them alive for a long time. This means if you leave an ant in a sealed jar, it will die of starvation long before it suffocates to death.
If you really want to suffocate an ant, you’ll need to put it in a far smaller container – although why you’d choose to do so is another matter.
How can you discourage ants from entering your home?
Ants enter our homes in search of food and water, so ensuring none is available to them is key.
Make sure you clean up any spills as quickly as possible and don’t leave any food out where they can get at it.
Even better, make sure all your food is stored in ant-proof plastic containers – because if it isn’t, ants will easily find their way to your supplies of things like sugar and help themselves to a free meal.
Do ants drink?
Like any animal, ants need water to live. However, generally speaking, they receive most of their water requirements from the food they eat, which means they rarely need to stop for a drink.
A simple yet fascinating answer
If you want to know how long an ant can hold its breath, the simple answer is: about one day.
However, as we’ve seen in this post, there’s far more to it than just that, making the question of how long an ant can hold its breath an intriguing one to learn about.