In most ant species, queens are tasked to bear all reproductive burden. Meaning despite worker ants also being female, it is typically only the queens which can mate and reproduce. With that, they’re also, in most cases, the only ones which can establish and grow new colonies.
In this article, we’ll look deeper into the role of the queen ant and discuss how queen ants mate, how they establish and grow colonies, and finally, how they eventually produce new reproductive ants to repeat the cycle.
How Do Queen Ants Mate?
In most ant species queen ants mate through the nuptial flight, wherein they fly out of their maternal nests and swarm with other reproductive ants. There they mate with different males until they fill up their spermatheca, an organ in which sperm can be stored and maintained until it’s used for fertilization.
After that, they send out signals to stop mating, lose their wings, and head towards their deemed ideal nesting site where they’ll burrow, seal themselves off and start laying eggs to start a new colony.
There are also ant colonies wherein queens don’t participate in the nuptial flight but instead mate within or near their maternal nests. This is a characteristic of polygynous colonies wherein a colony may have more than one queen.
Instead of swarming, they expand colonies through fragmentation or budding which happens when a group of workers and their individual queens break away from the maternal nest and move to their own.
How Queen Ants Grow The Colony
After securing themselves in their nests, queen ants then start using the stored sperm to lay eggs that hatch new workers. For queens which participated in the nuptial flight, these eggs would soon become the first generation of workers and officially mark the start of a new colony.
Before that happens though, she’ll have to take care of her first worker brood by feeding them with salivary secretions from her mouth. These secretions do just enough to allow her first workers to hatch, although they’ll typically be smaller compared to the other workers of their species due to lack of nutrition.
In any case, when these workers hatch, they take a great load off the queen as they assume responsibility for nest building, foraging for food, and taking care of the queen and her succeeding brood. This allows the queen to focus solely on laying eggs to grow the colony.
Once the colony reaches optimum stability and size, the queens will start to produce the next batch of reproductive ants. Through selective reproduction, queens may produce either new male drones or new queen ants.
When these new reproductive ants mature, they soon emerge from their nests for the nuptial flight. From there, the cycle continues.
How Long Do Queen Ants Live?
Queen ants live the longest among the other members of the colony. Depending on the species they may live for multiple years. Fire ant queens for example, can live up to 7 years or more while Lasius niger queens have been documented to live for 28 years in captivity.
How Many Eggs Can Queen Ants Lay?
It varies between species but in general, queen ants can produce hundreds to sometimes even thousands of eggs daily. Over the course of their lifetime, hundreds of thousands to millions of eggs. Army and driver ants for example, are known to have high fecundity among ants with queens of select species like the Dorylus wilverthi, capable of producing millions of eggs within just one to a few months.
What Happens When The Queen Ant Dies?
For some ant colonies, the death of the queen marks the death of the colony itself. Without the queen the colony eventually dies off as workers continue to reach the end of their lifespan. In other cases, dead queens are replaced by younger queens which the colony deems fit to take over.
Can A Queen Ant Survive Alone?
Up to a certain extent yes, as they do when starting out. However, they would eventually need to raise a group of workers that would help feed and clean them, otherwise they would most likely end up dead.
How Are New Queen Ants Produced?
Queen ants are produced through fertilized eggs, the same eggs that sterile worker ants hatch out off. Queens however are fed more as larvae, allowing them to morph into bigger, and in a lot of cases, winged ants capable of flight.
Summary: What Do Queen Ants Do?
Queen ants are essentially the lifeline of the ant colony. Bearing all reproductive burden, it generally only through them that new ants are produced. As such, only they can establish and grow new colonies to maturity.