Befitting their reputation as one of the most efficient species on the planet, ants forage for different foods at different times, based on the specific and timely needs of their respective colonies. Sometimes, the hunt will be for proteins while at other times they will seek items that contain carbohydrates.
Easy Access to Food
Within these two broad categories, ants tend to entertain a broad spectrum of acceptable items based on whatever is most easily and closely retrievable. Items may include animal carcasses or remains, fungus, plants and seeds. A general misconception about ants is that they eat leaves. In fact, no species of ant is known to use leaves for food, although they may at various points retrieve and transport leaves back to the colony for other practical uses.
Indeed, practicality infuses every aspect of the ant food diet. In 2008, a University of Oklahoma study found that species of ants further away from oceanfronts and that topography's plentiful supply of salt water had a higher propensity for foraging salt over sugar than ants closer to sea. The findings, based on the "cafeteria experiment" use of salt and suger-soaked cotton balls, were true mainly for plant-eating ants, as carnivorous ants get salt mainly from their prey.
In addition to searching for different foods at different times, the more than 12,000 species of ants also are extremely cunning as far as when they look for these items, depending on what part of of the world they are located in. The only exception being that ants do not generally forage in the rain or immediately following a rainstorm. Guided by temperature and humidity, some ants forage only before dawn or after dusk, while others set out at the hottest point of the desert day for example, aware that this is the time when their predators are least likely to be out, looking to eat them.