Ants are oviparous. They are all born through eggs which hatch into larvae. Depending on several factors, these larvae may develop into queens, workers, or drones.
In this article we’ll learn more about these factors and how ants are born as we discuss the following:
- How are female ants born?
- How are male ants born?
We’ll also look into ant reproduction and life cycle.
How are Female Ants Born?
Ants follow haplodiploid sex determination. This a characteristic in hymenopterans wherein female ants are born from fertilized eggs. They are diploid or have 2 sets of chromosomes from their male and female parents. 
How are Queen Ants Born?
Queen ants come from the same fertilized eggs as workers. However, it’s not clear how they’re differentiated from the non-reproductive caste.
Unlike bees, ants don’t have an equivalent to royal jelly. Meaning, ant queens aren’t simply made through varied nutrition. Instead, research suggests they’re produced through a combination of diet and genetics. In other words, it’s a matter of both nature and nurture.
Ant larvae that turn into queens, for instance, are fed more than the others. Queens are fed a high-quality diet that includes proteins and fats. This diet allows queen ants to grow larger and develop differently during metamorphosis. It gives them the ability to lay eggs and maintain the colony’s population.
However, having more food simply isn’t enough. The pupae that turn into queen ants need to have a highly expressed Insulin-like peptide 2 (ILP2) gene. This gene allows them to absorb more nutrients and make use of better nourishment. 
See this article to learn more about queen ants.
Minor vs Major Workers
Some ant species have dimorphic workers. This means that they have workers that vary in size and function. They’re called either minor or major.
Similar to queens, these differences vary based on diet. Workers that turn into the larger majors are fed more in their early stages of development.
See this article to learn more about worker ants.
How are Male Ants Born?
Males, on the other hand, are born through unfertilized eggs. They’re called haploid and only have 1 set of chromosomes. Queens ants can produce males without having to copulate.
The lifespan of a drone ant is relatively short, usually only a few weeks. Their sole purpose is to mate with queen ants to establish new colonies. Drone ants do not participate in tasks such as foraging for food or caring for the young.
Ant Reproduction: How Do Ants Reproduce?
Depending on the species, ants can either reproduce sexually or asexually. Sexual reproduction in ants involves the mating of queens and drones. This usually occurs through swarming or budding.
Asexual reproduction, on the other hand, occurs through parthenogenesis. This method of reproduction allows ants to create female offspring without fertilization.
See this article for a deeper dive into ant reproduction.
The Ant Life Cycle
Ants undergo complete metamorphosis. Their life cycle consists of 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
The table below highlights the main features of the ant life cycle, from the egg stage to the adult.
|Egg||Tiny, oval-shaped, transparent, and white in color|
|Larva||Several molts, hair starts growing|
|Pupa||Physical features may start to appear, undergoes further molting|
|Adult||Hatches out of the eggs after about 4 weeks of development in the pupal stage|
As mentioned, all ants start out as eggs. These eggs then hatch into larvae, the second stage of the ant life cycle. During this stage ants take the form of worm-like creatures that do nothing but eat. As they develop and grow larger, they undergo molting to accommodate the changes. Eventually, they grow large enough and turn into pupae.
Unlike the larval stage that’s characterized by constant eating, the pupal stage is one of rest. It’s a period of slow development wherein adult features like eyes, legs, and wings start to appear. During this stage, ants look more like adults but with folded legs and antennae.
After several weeks in the pupal stage, they finally emerge as the adults we’re familiar with. Most of them become workers, while some become reproductive queens and drones.
The whole process can last between 6 to 10 weeks depending on the species.
What is Haplodiploidy?
Haplodiploidy is a sex-determination system found in social insects like ants. It’s a system wherein males develop from unfertilized eggs and are haploid. On the other hand, females develop from fertilized eggs and are diploid.
Can Worker Ants Give Birth?
In most species, worker ants aren’t capable of giving birth. However, there are some cases wherein worker ants take on the reproductive burden. Workers called gamergate ants are capable of mating and reproducing sexually. Some workers can also clone themselves through asexual reproduction.
How Long Do Ants Live?
Ants can live for a varying amount of time depending on several factors. Some ants can live a few weeks while some last decades.
See this article to learn more about these factors and the lifespan of ants.
Summary: How Are Ants Born?
All ants are born from eggs produced through either sexual or asexual reproduction. These eggs through haplodiploidy can hatch into male or female ants.
After hatching, they then enter the larval and pupal stages of development. During these stages, nature and nurture play a role in determining the type of adult an ant turns into. Depending on genetics and nourishment an ant may become a queen, worker, or drone.