Where do ants come from? Have you ever wondered what goes on underneath those ant mounds you see outside? Their tunnels are filled with thousands of ants for one queen, and yet we almost never see what happens to their growth. The ant life cycle might be mostly hidden from our eyes, but it’s no longer a secret.
Ants go through four stages in their lives: as eggs, as larvae, as pupae, and as adults. Keep on reading to learn some more facts about the lives of ants!
All ants start as eggs. They are white, oval, and roughly 1 mm in length each. I’m sure you could imagine just how small the eggs of insects as small as ants must be. But ant eggs are more than just amazingly small.
Queen ants can lay up to 800 eggs on average each day. When an egg is fertilized, it will hatch into a female. Unfertilized eggs produce males. You could understand how ant colonies grow so populous, but not all eggs become adults.
Some eggs get eaten before they even hatch. While the colony is just starting, the queen may eat some of the eggs for sustenance. Workers would also feed some eggs to the larvae. Tough luck for them!
Ant larvae emerge from the eggs after about 3-4 weeks. These larvae look like worms with no eyes. During this stage, the larvae do nothing but eat and grow. They get fed by the workers and they rapidly molt and grow. These larvae would shed their skin again and again during this 1-2-week stage of their lives.
How is this crucial? Larvae that get fed more grow bigger. And eventually, they grow into queens. The other less-fed larvae grow into simple workers. Future queens are determined by the amount that larvae eat.
Metamorphosis isn’t exclusive to butterflies. When larvae get big enough, they pupate or become pupa. This is the transition period when they metamorphose (transform) into full-fledged adults.
They start to look more like adults in this stage, except with legs and antennae tucked close to their bodies. Some species of ants even form a silk cocoon and attach themselves to walls as they pupate. After 9-30 days, the transformation will be complete.
Adult ants arise from pupae, and then the direction of the life cycle branches out. As fully formed mature ants, they stay the same size for the entirety of their lives. However, adults are separated into different castes and play different roles for the colony.
Adult ants can become queens, workers, or males. The biggest of them are the queens. These ants have wings that let them fly off, mate, and start their own colonies, completing the ant life cycle. The queens tear off their wings before burrowing into the ground and laying the first eggs of the colony.
Workers are smaller females than queens, and they are the backbone of the colony. Workers do everything; they gather food, take care of the young, build and maintain the colony, and everything in between! Larger workers are the ones that defend the colony, sometimes called soldiers.
Males, or drones, are winged and fertile. They can fly and they can mate with queens. Other than that, they don’t really do anything. They don’t help with any of the chores of the colony, and they die after a few weeks.
The life cycle lasts around 6-10 weeks on average, from egg to adult. The timeline becomes a lot different when they become adults in their own castes, and it’s also different for each species.
Drones only last for a few weeks. They’re the quickest to die in a colony, and since they don’t help anyway, that’s one less mouth to feed.
Workers can live for a few months at a time, but they have high mortality rates. After all, they’re the ones who venture out of the nest. Good thing the queen can produce hundreds in a day!
Ant queens are tough. In the right conditions, they can live for over a decade. They keep the colony alive, so if you wanted to get rid of them, the queen should be a prime target.
The lives of ants differ largely on the species and conditions that they are in, so it is difficult to give a single estimation for all ants.
Ants live life very differently from us. Understanding how they live and how they develop gives us more insight into how they function. This deeper understanding can help us study them better, or learn how to counter them.
Ant problems are very common, and we know that very well. If you have an invasive ant problem, then you’re in the right place to be! Just send us a message here and we can talk about shortening the lifespan of the ants in your home!