Do ants have feelings?

Ants brains are smaller and simpler than our own, but the collective hive mind of the colony could have feelings.

7th February 2013

Asked by: Kevin McGrath, by email

Ants don’t have complex emotions such as love, anger, or empathy, but they do approach things they find pleasant and avoid the unpleasant. They can smell with their antennae, and so follow trails, find food and recognise their own colony.

Their exoskeleton has sensory hairs on the outside but they probably cannot feel damage on the inside, which is why parasites can destroy them if they can get in without touching the sensors.

Each ant’s brain is simple, containing about 250,000 neurones, compared with a human’s billions. Yet a colony of ants has a collective brain as large as many mammals’. Some have speculated that a whole colony could have feelings.

You are currently reading: Do ants have feelings? - 7th February

5 issues for £5 when you subscribe to BBC Focus Magazine