I recently had ants find and then swarm to a food container that I put down on a desk. I'm curious as to whether an ant would have needed to get lucky (i.e., discovering the food after crawling up the desk) or ants have the ability to sense food from a distance.
I'm skeptical of believing that ants simply scout around until finding food; I'll use this case as an example:
My room has had no food or drink in it for weeks, so the area wouldn't be a "hotspot" for ants to be interested in.
I put the mostly empty food container down on my clean desk and turned my lamp off to work on the computer. No more than 2 hours later did I turn my light back on to discover a trail of ants swarming to the container I put down. It happened pretty quickly.
The desk is high, standing on four thin legs. I find it difficult to believe that an ant would crawl up the desk as often as a 2 hour time frame to scout for food, for the message to be passed to the colony so quickly.
I've been curious about this scenario for a long time. So my question:
Can ants sense food from a long distance? If so, how does it work? If not, how is the phenomena (ants locating food quickly in unlikely places) explained?