Ants are social insects that live in colonies that may include thousands of individuals. Ants, along with bees and wasps, are members of the order Hymenoptera and undergo complete metamorphosis passing through four stages:
The wingless worker ants are the most common adults seen. However, there are three types of adults:
Characteristics and duties of Queen ants
- Largest individuals in colony
- Are the only females that reproduce
- Locate nest site
- Lay eggs
- Assist workers in feeding and grooming larvae
- Some ant species have only one queen per colony; others such as Argentine ants may have several
Characteristics and duties of Male ants
- Do not participate in colony activities
- Mate with queens
- Die usually within 2 weeks of mating
Characteristics and duties of Workers
- Sterile females
- Most numerous caste
- Some species such as carpenter ants and fire ants are polymorphic, having several sizes of workers; the larger workers, or major workers, have different job duties than the smaller ones, or minor workers.
- Ants such as the Argentine ants only have one size of worker and divide job duties by age; older workers gather food and younger workers relay and store food, build tunnels, defend the colony; and feed, groom, transport, and protect larvae.
New colonies can begin with mated flights
A new ant colony usually begins as a new queen flies off from an old colony, mates with a male, finds a suitable site, drops her wings and excavates a nest, and cloisters herself within the nest for several weeks or more until her eggs mature. She lays her eggs within the nest, cares for her young, seldom or never leaving the nest again, relying on workers to groom her and feed the colony after the first generation is reared.
Some colonies are established through budding
For some ant species, such as the Argentine ant and the pharaoh ant, queens mate in the old nest and workers accompany the new queens to new nesting sites. In these cases, queens may not have wings or be able to fly well. Workers can also establish new colonies with or without mature queens through budding. Workers carry immature stages (eggs, larvae, pupae) to another nest site and rear some of the immatures up as reproductive males and females.
Many of the most serious ant pests, including Argentine ant, pharaoh ant, and the carpenter ant, have multiple queens within colonies. Others, such as pavement ants, have only one functional queen. After one season or a few years, depending on the ant species, a colony begins to produce reproductives that leave the colony, often in swarms, to form new colonies. Only a few of the thousands of queens produced are successful in founding a colony.