The Ants in the Brain Urban Legend

The Urban Legend In Which Ants Allegedly Enter the Brain Through the Ear

A mount of ants
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In this viral tale, doctors investigating the cause of severe headaches and facial itching in a young child discover that ants have crawled in his ear and infested his brain. Their considered opinion: never eat sweets before going to bed! Could this have really happened? We investigate.

  • Description Viral text / Urban legend
  • Circulating since: 2001 (this version)
  • Status: See below
  • Example: Email contributed by reader Mike K., August 10, 2001:

Subject: BEWARE of ANTS !!!

Case 1: A little boy died because surgeons found ants in his brain! Apparently this boy had fell asleep with some sweets in his mouth or with some sweet stuff beside him. Ants soon got to him and some ants in fact crawled into his ear which somehow managed to go to his brain. When he woke up, he did not realize that ants had gone to his head.

After that, he constantly complains about itchiness around his face. His mother brought him to see a doctor but the doctor could not figure out what was wrong with him. He took an X-ray of the boy and to his horror, he found a group of live ants in his skull. Since the ants are still live, the doctor could not operate on him cuz the ants are constantly moving about.

The boy at last died. So please be careful when leaving food stuff beside your bed or when eating in bed. This might attract ants. Most importantly, NEVER eat a sweet before going to bed. You might fall asleep and suffer same fate as the little boy.

Case 2: Another similar incident happened in the hospital in Taiwan. This man was warded in the hospital and was constantly warned by the nurses not to leave food stuff by his bedside for there are ants about. He did not head their advice. Ants finally got to him. His family members said that the man constantly complain about headaches. He died and a post mortem or autopsy was done on him. Doctors found a group of live ants in his head. Apparently, the ants had been eating bits of his brain.

Ughhhhhhh!!! So dear friends, better be safe than sorry!! Never leave food stuff beside your side when you go to sleep!!!!!


Live ants eating your brain? I don't think so! This is the stuff of nightmares and tabloid tales — stuff, that is to say, based more on imagination and a general dread of creepy-crawly insects than reality.

While it's true that bugs do occasionally crawl into people's ear canals, causing pain and discomfort, one finds no reports in the medical literature of ants, earwigs, cockroachesspiders, or the like chewing their way through the eardrum into anyone's brain. It simply doesn't happen.

Despite the longevity of this legend, the anatomical improbability of it was recognized centuries ago — for example, in an article entitled "Errors in Natural History," published in The Saturday Magazine in 1836:

If one of these insects should by chance get into the ear it would no doubt be an unpleasant inmate but the membranum tympani , the drumhead of the ear, would effectually prevent the progress of the insect, and the unwelcome visitor could be either killed, or dislodged with ease by means of a few drops of oil.

Let us not disregard the cautionary aspect of the tale, however. In both of the alleged incidents, the victim, a child, was said to have been eating snacks before bedtime and left food out beside the bed, attracting the insects. Read now what was reported in 2011 in the May 21, 2011 edition of the Taipei Times:

It is not unusual for mothers to stop their children from eating in bed, but now doctors are also telling their patients the same thing — if they don’t want ants crawling into their ears.

Although it is common to find small bugs in ear canals, a local doctor yesterday said he recently found as many as 25 dead ants in the ears of a 16-year-old girl.

Before seeking medical help, the girl, who has a sweet tooth, had been suffering from ear pain for several months, said Hung Yaun-tsung, chief of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Taipei City Hospital.

That's a lot of dead ants for one small person to have in their ears! If the report is accurate — and it's fair to be skeptical — perhaps there is something to the admonishment, "Never eat a sweet before going to bed."

On the other hand, nobody ever died from ants crawling in their ears. Have a cookie!