Ant Colony And The Life Cycle
A Typical Ant Colony
Ants have a caste system, where responsibilities are divided. The queen is the founder of the colony, and her role is to lay eggs (egg laying machine).
Once mated, the queen never mates again. Instead of repetitive mating, she stores the male’s sperm in a specialized pouch until such time as she opens the pouch and allows sperm to fertilize the eggs she produces.
The nest’s queen controls the gender and function of her offspring since her fertilized eggs become either wingless female workers or reproductively capable virgin female ants (young queen). Unfertilized eggs develop into winged drones/male ants who do no work other than to fertilize a virgin princess/female ant.
One striking feature of social insects is the lifespan of queens (reproductive females), which can reach nearly 30 years in some ant species. This is over 100 times the average lifespan of solitary insects.
In the lifespan among castes, with queens living up to 500 times longer than males and 10 times longer than workers (non-reproductive females).
The Princess/Young Queen
The female ants are developed from fertilized eggs and have two genome copies.
When it comes to mating, they fly and leave to start a new colony. Once they mate, they let go of their wings and become the new Queen.
The Drones/Male Ants
These wasp-like ants born from unfertilized eggs are the only male ants in the colony.
The male ant function like flying sperm, only having one genome copy means every one of their sperm is genetically identical to themselves, and their job is over quickly, dying soon after mating,
They fly only during mating, and that's pretty much their purpose. They take off when the princesses do, for the Nuptial flight.
The most common in the colony. These are infertile female ants. They are the ones that do most of the work. Be it looking after the queen, taking care of the "babies", or collecting food.
Worker ants, meanwhile, have smaller bodies and mandibles more suited for grabbing and moving things. Their jobs are more varied, ranging from hunting and collecting food to tending to the young. As such, it makes sense that worker ants could have larger brains compared to their body size, with so many different tasks, they need the accompanying brainpower to accomplish them.
The mightier infertile female ants generally are assigned to protect the colony from larger animals. They also help in carrying heavier food, or clearing paths. Not all types of ants have a soldier. Only species with polymorphism have such strong ants.
Soldier ants are larger, stronger and have powerful mandibles that work like pincers to fight off predators threatening the colony. That is effectively their only job. However, it has almost the same brain size compared to the Worker ants, which means if compared to their body size, then, the soldier ants have much smaller brains.
Life Cycle of Ants
The life cycle of an ant is called complete metamorphosis. It is the same kind of life cycle butterflies have.
Every species of ant has its nuptial flight around specific times in the year. During the nuptial flight the young winged queens and males fly into the air, the queens release pheromones that attract the males. Sometimes, the queens fly faster than males, only the ones that can catch up are considered to be better or stronger mates.
They mate while flying or upon landing (the princess/young queen will often mate with several males), and then finally drop to the ground a few hours later. The males die after mating; breeding with the princess/young queen during nuptial flight is their only purpose in the ant world.
Mated young queen break off their wings and begin searching for a new location to begin their own colonies.
Only a few species of ants will accept these now pregnant queens back to the nest, but generally most don’t, and the queens are off on their own in search of a suitable place to begin a nest, where each queen will eventually give birth to their first set of babies.
The new queen is now ready to lay eggs and start a new colony.
She needs to survive until worker ants are born and ready to find food. Until then, she feeds on protein off her wings (now useless) and off the fat stored in her.
Larvae grow and are fed and cared for by the workers, they are maggots that have no proper organs developed. The hair on them enables worker ants to carry more than one at a time. They can only wiggle, or open their mouths and begin consuming foraged food.
In 12-32 days, the larvae then become pupae, and the workers stop feeding them.
Once the larvae grow in size, they resemble more of an ant. Some even enclose themselves into cocoons, they are covered by a white or brownish cocoon, but their exoskeletons harden eventually. Pupae are not fed as they are in a cocoon.
When they are fully developed (9-30 days) adult ants emerge from the pupae.
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