Ant Life Cycle

Ant Reproduction / How do Ants Reproduce?

Several reproductive strategies have been observed in ant species. The females of many species are known to be capable of reproducing asexually through thelytokous parthenogenesis. 

In most of the ant species, their reproductive cycle starts with a system in which only the queen and breeding females can mate. Some ant nests have several queens, while others may exist without queens. Workers with the ability to reproduce are known as "gamergates" and colonies that lack queens are then called gamergate colonies.

Drones can also mate with queens by entering a foreign colony. Initially, the drones are attacked by the workers. However, they release a mating pheromone which prevents the attack if they are recognised as a mate. Then they will be carried to the queen for mating. 

Most ants are univoltine, meaning, they produce a new generation each year. During the species-specific breeding period, winged females and males called alates, leave the colony in what is called a nuptial flight. 

The nuptial flight usually occurs during late spring or early summer when the weather is hot and humid. Heat makes the flight easier and the fresh rain makes the ground softer for the mated queens to dig nests.

During the nuptial flight, the males take flight before the females. Afterwards, they use visual cues to find a common mating ground, for example, a landmark such as a pine tree to which other males in the area converge. 

The males secrete a mating pheromone that females (the queen) follow. They will mount females in the air, but the actual mating process usually takes place on the ground. The females of some species mate with just one male but in other species, they may mate with as many as ten different males and store the sperm in their spermatheca.

Mated females then seek a suitable place to begin a colony and then break off their wings and begin to lay and care for eggs. The females can selectively fertilise future eggs with the sperm stored to produce diploid workers or lay unfertilised haploid eggs to produce drones. 

The first workers to hatch from eggs are called nanitics, and are weaker and smaller than later workers. They begin to serve the colony immediately. They enlarge the nest, care for other eggs and forage for food. 

Lifetime of Ant

All reproductive adult ants bear wings and swarm to find a mate. The adults mate and the female leaves the colony looking for a nesting spot. Once the female ant locates a suitable site for the nest, she breaks off her wings. She then starts digging the nest. Once it is large enough she starts laying eggs which take a few weeks to hatch. She cares for her first-generation, rarely leaving if at all. Once the first generation is reared, they take care of the queen and she never leaves the nest again. 

The queen ant can continue to produce young without mating with a male or she can generate young through asexual parthenogenesis. The offspring will be exact replicas of their mother but will remain, infertile females unless they are selected to become reproductive. 

The Typical Sugar Ant Life Span Encompasses Four Stages.  

The order goes from egg, larva, pupa and to adult. 

Egg: The queen can produce two types of eggs. One egg-type can be a female ant, and the other can be a male ant. The queen ant can lay up to 200-1,000 eggs in 24 hours. The unusually large egg that is produced is a queen egg.  The eggs hatch in 7-14 days and the workers take the eggs to the hatching chambers.

Larvae: After hatching the larvae come out of the egg.  They look like tiny worms that must get larger and they do not have eyes or legs yet. The larvae are fed by the workers. This is where having two stomachs in their anatomy plays a major role in the ants. The worker regurgitates food from its stomach to nourish the young. The larvae ant moults several times over this stage and depends on adult worker ants for food.

The ant larvae then transform into a pupa stage. The pupae have physical features like eyes, legs and wings start to appear. In the pupa stage, the ant has antennae and legs that are folded against their body.

Pupa: Once the ant larvae have reached the desired size, they become pupae. The larvae spin a cocoon around itself where it pupates. A major development of the ant takes place during this phase. 

Adult: The adult form is the finished result. The pupa shell or cocoon is then exited by the new fully grown adult ant. This life cycle can take anywhere from five to ten weeks. The average lifespan of an ant is around 1-3 years. However, the queen can live up to 25-28 -years.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: How Long do Ants Live?

Ans: An adult worker ant can live up to 1-3 years. However, the queen ant can live up to 28 years. The lifespan does differ from species to species. Queen ants are estimated to live 100 times as long as solitary insects of similar size. Male ants live for only a few weeks and die after mating.

Q2: What are the Ant Stages of Life?

Ans: Ants have four physical stages in their life:

  • The egg

  • The larvae stage

  • The pupae stage

  • The adult phase.