Ants are one of the fastest reproducing insects on the planet. There are around 12000 species of ants identified till now and about 700 of them are present in the USA. You probably think this is a lot and it surely is, but their means of reproduction remain the same for all ant species.
So, do ants lay eggs? Ants do lay eggs. Their eggs need 7 to 14 days to hatch, and after they hatch, they morph into larvae. The process of ant reproduction is rather complicated, so for starters, it is enough to say that the queen ant, after mating with male ants, is then able to lay eggs. She can decide if she will fertilize her eggs, and in case she does, from those eggs, female worker ants can be hatched, which can, if well-fed, evolve into queens. When she doesn’t fertilize her eggs, that results in newly hatched male ants. This is a short explanation.
If you are a nature lover, or you had a domestic infestation of these insects you must surely ask yourself – how ants grow in numbers so fast? What is the key to their enormous multiplication rate?
It all makes sense if you grasp into the way of the ant reproduction. It all starts with the queen ant mating with the male ants. After the mating cycle, male ants die a couple of days later, and a queen collects the sperm of the ants and store it in a sort of a pouch.
After she deicide to fertilize them, she opens sort of a valve and through it allows the sperm to flow into her reproductive tract resulting in fertilization of the eggs. Queen in this process can choose the sex of the siblings, so fertilized eggs become female ants and those unfertilized are born as male ants.
The new virgin queen can be developed only if there are enough male worker ants to support the new queen and her multiplication processes. Queen ant goes through one cycle of mating, and after that, she can only copulate, but she can never mate again.
We have written more about this topic in the following sections below. So, if you want to learn more about ants and their reproduction processes please continue reading the article.
The Process Of Ant Reproduction
Like we said already, ants reproduce by laying eggs, but how the whole process of reproduction looks like? How are there so many ants?
Well, the most important part of the ant reproduction process is the nuptial flight. Why is it called like that? Well, because of the nature of the mating process. Occasionally, developed ant colony produce flyable mates, called alates, and virgin queens. Queen attracts males by releasing pheromones during the nuptial flight.
Mating is conducted in flight, and usually the queen mates with a couple of the fastest males. All ants that are part of the mating process are called the mating swarm. After mating, the queen searches for a suitable spot to start a new colony. Males die quickly after the mating.
Also, there are examples of colonies with more than one queen, but that can happen only when there are enough worker ants to support that colony. Worker ants are not fertile, and their purpose is to collect food (click here to see what do ants eat) and protect the colony.
After she is done with the mating, the queen loses its wings, and she stores the sperm in a sort of a pouch developed for that sole purpose. The pouch is located on a queen’s abdomen.
She can decide when she will fertilize the eggs, and determine the sex for every sibling. She can’t mate twice but she can fertilize the eggs she produces with the stored sperm. Every fertilized egg produces a female ant, and male ants become of unfertilized eggs.
Ant queens are the hearth of every ant colony. Only queens can mate, reproduce and lay eggs. The whole colony is focused on the queen and her egg’s needs. There are always working ants in search of the food for the queen and the eggs. When the eggs hatch, they evolve into larvae, and they demand specific food. It is one of the responsibilities of the worker ants to tailor the food for the larvae needs.
At the beginning of the mating cycle, the queen and the fertile male ants fly above the ant colony, and there they can even mate with the ants from other colonies.
Ant queen uses pheromones to attract male ants. As a part of the mating ritual, she tries to fly off, and she mates only with a couple of ants fast enough to catch up with her.
In most cases, there is just one ant queen per ant colony, but if there are enough worker ants, there can be more then one queen in a colony. The number of queens depends on the number of working ants which can provide enough food for the queen and her eggs.
Also, the number of ants is essential when it comes to the protection of the queen and the eggs. Depending on ant species and life conditions, the queen can live up to 25 to 30 years.
How Does an Ant Queen Create a New Ant Colony
It is quite interesting to know that the only way to create a new ant colony is for the queen to survive the mating process and decide to move from the old colony to create a new one. Some number of worker ants follow her and practically offers her protection and food.
Without those ants, a queen would never have the chance to fertilize the eggs and new eggs couldn’t survive. Worker ants are there to build a colony and secure the place for the queen and her eggs.
Because there are so many species of ants, there are, of course, some cases that differ from the standard. There are a couple of ant species where ant queens together form a new colony and help each other. But, like in all cases, worker ants are there to help the queens and their eggs to survive.
What Are Worker Ants And What Is Their Purpose In Ant Reproduction?
Worker ants are created by the queen’s intent, by secreting a chemical that that stops the growth of the wings. That way worker ants are focused on building and expanding the colony. You remember all those tunnels you see in the educational videos about ants?
They are all dug by worker ants. They don’t only build a colony and dig tunnels, but they are responsible for the queens and their eggs. Without their help, there would be no colony. They protect the colony and supply the queen and the eggs with food.
Apparently, the queen cannot just leave the colony in the search for food, because that would be a death sentence for the entire colony, so it all rests on working ants shoulders so to speak.
When they find a source of food, they leave a trail of scent so all the other ants can find food as fast as they can. It is also interesting to know that working ants move the eggs during the night into the deeper parts of the colony, so the eggs will remain as warm as it is possible.
What Is Ant Colony Budding?
Some species of ants have a sort of special way of reproducing and it is called colony budding. Basically, budding is a process where multiple fertile queens leave with working ants to create a new colony.
There is no mating swarm, because queens are already fertile, and they will not be mating any more. Reasons for this kind of “branching out” are either if the ants feel threatened and need to leave, or the situation is going too well and a chance to create a new colony just should go wasted.
Species of ants that heavily relly on colony budding are fire ants, argentine ants, pharaoh ants, and ghost ants.
Ant reproducing is a wide topic to cover for an article, that is why we have focused on their eggs, but we laid out some foundations that can help every reader to understand the basics of ant reproduction. It is important to know the basics which include a nuptial flight, where males and queens take off the ground and mate in flight.
Use our site for more interesting information about ants and other pests. Best of luck!
List of Sources
Aron, S., Timmermans, I., & Pearcy, M. (2011), Ant queens adjust egg fertilization to benefit from both sexual and asexual reproduction, Biology Letters
Torres, JA & Snelling, R. & Canals, M.. (2001). Seasonal and nocturnal periodicities in ant nuptial flights in the Tropics (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
Jesse L., Ant Swarming, Iowa State University
Ant Life Cycle, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Heyman, Y., Shental, N., Brandis, A., Hefetz, A., & Feinerman, O. (2017). Ants regulate colony spatial organization using multiple chemical road-signs. Nature communications