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Do Ants Have Hearts? (Explained)

Even though ants are tiny, these insects are incredibly strong. A single ant can lift as much as 50 times its body weight, and when a group of ants works together, they can lift even more. When you look at what ants can do, it’s hard not to wonder exactly how their bodies work. Do ants have hearts like we do, or are ant bodies powered by completely different organs?

Do Ants Have Hearts?

Pyramid ants
Pyramid ants | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Ants do have hearts, but an ant heart doesn’t look or function like a human heart. Inside the ant is a dorsal vessel that pumps and carries circulatory fluid. The dorsal vessel is shaped like a long, thin tube and stretches across an ant’s body, from the head to the abdomen.

On each end of the dorsal vessel is a chamber filled with fluid. The dorsal vessel is able to carry fluid from one chamber to the other. A nerve cord runs through the center of an ant’s heart, which allows the ant’s nervous system to regulate the way that the dorsal vessel operates.

An ant’s heart is an open spherical system that’s surrounded by tiny muscles. Whenever the insect’s heart contracts, it sends fluid to all parts of the body.

This type of circulatory system isn’t unique to ants. All insects have open circulatory systems that function in a similar way.

Do Ants Hearts Beat?

Flying ant on white
Flying ant on white

Since the dorsal vessel pumps blood, ants do have heartbeats! It’s even possible to take an ant’s pulse and monitor its heartbeat.

According to researchers, ant hearts have an average pulse of 53.5 beats per minute. That’s lower than the average pulse of a human, which is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Even though ant hearts beat like human hearts do, the way these hearts function is very different. An ant doesn’t have arteries, veins, or capillaries that carry blood across its body.

Instead, the body of an ant is filled with fluid. The dorsal vessel is able to push that fluid around the ant’s body on its own.

When an ant’s heart beats, it creates hydrostatic pressure, which helps to move fluid from one organ to the next. Since ants are tiny, the dorsal vessel is able to transport fluid to all parts of the body fairly quickly. Ants rely on their hearts for many bodily functions, including movement and reproductive functions.

Do Ants Have Blood?

Ants have a fluid inside their body that’s very similar to blood called hemolymph. This fluid is able to move nutrient’s around an ant’s body. Since ants don’t have red blood cells, this blood is usually a yellow or green color rather than the deep red color of human blood.

In humans, blood carries oxygen to all parts of our bodies. However, ants get oxygen to their organs in a very different way. Ants have tiny holes on their body that are called spiracles. Spiracles are connected to air tubes that are able to transport oxygen directly to ant organs.

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Even though hemolymph doesn’t transport oxygen, it does carry materials between cells. Ants use hemolymph to transport nutrients, hormones, and waste materials across the body. When hemolymph flows through an ant’s body, it also helps to lubricate the insect’s tissues!

How Are Ant Hearts Different from Human Hearts?

Ants and pupae
Ants and pupae | image by Cyndy Sims Parr via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

If you were to see an ant’s heart, you might not recognize it as a heart at all! The dorsal vessel functions in a similar way to the human heart, but it looks very different. Since it’s essentially a long tube, it can be hard to measure the size of an ant’s heart or see how much it weighs.

Humans have a closed circulatory system, but an ant’s circulatory system is open. Our circulatory system transports blood through veins and arteries, but the blood-like fluid inside ants fills their entire bodies.

We depend on our hearts to send oxygen to our organs, but ant blood doesn’t transport oxygen. Instead, it transports materials like sugars, nutrients, and hormones.

A human heart is divided into four different chambers. In contrast, the dorsal vessel on an ant has two parts: the heart and the aorta.

The part of the dorsal vessel that’s referred to as the ant’s heart is located near an ant’s abdomen, while the aorta is closer to the ant’s head. Our hearts are in our chests, but the dorsal vessel stretches across an ant’s entire body.

Conclusion

While ants definitely aren’t heartless, it’s clear that ant hearts are very different from our own. In spite of these differences, ants still depend on their hearts to pump blood-like fluid across their bodies. This fluid is a vessel for all kinds of important nutrients, and it also helps to remove waste from an ant’s body.

There are more than 12,000 species of ant in the world, and every one of those species has a beating heart inside its body. Ants may not have ears, and their bodies may not work as ours do, but ants and humans still have some things in common. The next time you see an ant crawling around, take a moment to think about the tiny organs inside its body that are keeping it alive.