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Lifecycle of Ants

Photo of Leaf Cutter Ants by © Geoff Gallice (CC-BY 2.0)

Photo of Leaf Cutter Ants by © Geoff Gallice (CC-BY 2.0)

Like the butterfly, every ant goes through 4 stages in its life: egg, larva, pupa and adult.  However, did you know that an ant colony has its own life cycle as well?  Let’s explore more!

1) Mating flight

The winged male and female ants participate in a mating flight when conditions are hot and humid (such as after a rain), and there is little or no wind.  They will fly for a distance and mate with their counterparts from another nest.

2) Foundation

The mated female, now a queen-to-be, will find a suitable nesting site to establish a new colony.  Once she has found one, she detaches her wings and starts to construct a new nest.  The males die shortly after they have mated.

The queen lays eggs and feeds the larvae. This is the only time when the queen does all the work herself.

3) Growth

When the first batch of worker ants emerge, they begin to serve the colony immediately.  They further expand the nest, forage and nurse the young. The queen becomes less involved in chores, other than laying eggs.

As the colony grows larger with more workers, the queen can now dedicate her life to producing eggs.

4) Reproduction

When a colony becomes large enough, it will produce sexually mature males and females.  These winged adults take to the air and mate with their counterparts from other colonies.

Fun facts

  • The most painful insect sting to humans is the sting of the bullet ants (genus Paraponera).  The ant gets its name because the pain from its sting is as painful as being hit by a bullet.
  • The nest of Leaf-cutting Ants (genus Atta & Acromyrmex) can reach until 6 meters underground (about 2 storeys tall), and cover an area as large as a tennis court!
  • Some ant colonies have a few queen ants of the same species living harmoniously together.  These are called “polygynous ant colonies”.
  • There are more than 12,000 species of ants described worldwide, all of which live in large numbers as colonies. They are very social insects!

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