Ants are social animals which live in large organized groups called colonies. These colonies consist of thousands of ants categorized into different castes all working together towards the growth and survival of the colony. Together these ants make up a superorganism which behave and think as a unit.
In this article we’ll look deeper into the ant colony structure as we discuss its members and their respective rolesroles.
Types Of Ants In A Colony And Their Roles
Ant colonies consist of 3 main castes, the queen, worker, and males. The ants in each of these castes are specialized to perform different tasks which all factor into colony growth and survival.
Queens. In most ant species, queens bear all reproductive burden. This means that they are typically the only ones capable of reproduction and thus, are also the ones mostly responsible for the growth of the colony. They lay thousands to millions of eggs to produce a great number of workers and when the colony matures, they then produce new reproductive queens and male drones which would eventually head out of their nests to start new colonies of their own. In many ant species, the death of the queen marks the death of the colony itself.
Workers. This caste is composed of generally sterile female ants tasked to keep the colony functioning. As their name implies, these ants work a lot. They build, maintain, and defend nests, forage for food, and take care of the queen and her brood. In a way they’re just as important as the queens since they help keep the queen healthy and fit for reproduction. In some species, worker ants even fulfill the role of the queen as they either help with or take full responsibility of reproduction.
Males. In ant colonies, males are the minority. They’re produced only at certain times of the year and are mostly treated as expendable members of the colony. They don’t actively participate in helping the colony as their only purpose in life is to mate with virgin queens. Upon maturity these ants become single-use sperm missiles which die after mating.
Identifying The Different Types Of Ants In The Colony
The members of the colony can be differentiated through their physical characteristics. Queen ants for example, are larger than the other ants in the colony. They have muscular midsections or thoraxes which would have had wings when they were still virgins.
Worker ants on the other hand, are similar to queens apart from the muscular thoraxes, due to lack of wings, and are significantly smaller. There are however, species with polymorphic workers wherein minor and major workers vary greatly in size. Major workers have larger heads and mandibles which make them look like a mix between workers and queens.
Lastly, male ants can be easily identified through the presence of their wings. They’re also a tad bit bigger than workers and have bigger eyes and straighter antennae.
Ant Colony Structure
Most ant colonies are monogynous, meaning they follow a structure where they only have one queen which handles all reproductive duties. Alongside this queen are thousands of female workers, all of which have given up their rights to reproduce to instead serve the queen by feeding her and taking care of her brood.
Some ant colonies however, are polygynous or are composed of multiple queens which share the reproductive load. In some ant colonies this may mean just one extra queen while in some it could mean thousands to even millions such as in the case of the Formica yessensis of Japan. This type of structure can also be found in Ponerinae, Myrmeciinae, Myrmicinae, Dolichoderinae, and Formicinae ants.
Finally, there are also some queenless ants like those from the genus Diacamma. In these ants, workers called gamergates assume reproductive responsibility. Unlike the typical worker ant, these gamergates have functional spermatheca and are capable of sexual reproduction.
How Many Ants Are In A Colony?
The number of ants in a colony vary greatly across species. Some ant species may have less than a thousand members whereas others may have up to hundreds of millions.
How Are Worker Ants Produced?
Worker ants are produced through fertilized eggs. This is by virtue of haploidiploid sex determination, a characteristic in ants wherein females are diploid or have two sets of chromosomes coming from male and female parents.
How Are Queen Ants Produced?
Queen ants are produced similarly to workers in the sense that they also come from fertilized eggs. Queen ants however, are fed more as larvae and morph to be larger reproductive ants,
How Are Male Ants Produced?
Male ants on the other hand, develop from unfertilized eggs. Unlike the females, male ants are haploid or have only one set of chromosomes.
Ant colonies are composed of 3 types of ants, the queens, workers, and males. These different types of ants all have their respective roles to help the colony grow and survive. Queens for instance are generally responsible for reproduction while workers are tasked with nest construction, foraging, and other tasks related to colony upkeep. As for the males, these ants are specialized for one single purpose, to mate with virgin queens to help them establish new colonies.
These different types of ants can be differentiated through their physical characteristics. Queens and male ants are generally larger than workers. They also have muscular thoraxes due to their wings,
In terms of structure, most ant colonies are monogynous or have only one reproductive queen. There are some colonies however, that have varying amounts of queens. Some are polygynous or have multiple reproductive queens while there are also others that have no queens at all.