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How are Queen Ants Born (Or Made)?

Queen ants are born the same as worker ants, but they absorb nutrition better than other ants, which means they become the dominant queen ant of the colony.

flying ant
A male ant that will breed with the queen

Queen ants emerge in the colony through two factors:

  • Genetic Factor: The ant larvae that transform into the queen ants have minor genetic variations via a gene called peptide 2 (ILP2) that allow them to absorb nutrition in a better way than other ants.
  • Environmental Factor: The worker ants put baby queen ants (larvae) under a nutritionally rich diet which further boosts the transformational process of these larvae into queen ants.

So, both nutritional factors and genetic factors are responsible for the birth and formation of queen ants.

 Are Queen Ants Born or Made?

Contrary to the old belief that queen ants are only made by certain circumstances, recent studies are showing that queen ants are both born and made (meaning they emerge from a combination of genetic and environmental factors).

For a long time, it has been believed that the deciding factor for whether an ant will become a queen or a normal worker ant does not depend upon any kind of special genetic trait. Rather, it depends but upon the kind of care the larvae (baby ant) receives, as well as its diet.

ant carrying white egg
This ant is carrying ant larvae to a new nest

The larvae that are kept on a more protein-rich diet than the rest end up becoming the new queen ants.

However, recent research is showing that there is more to this story than environmental factors.

The genetic matchup between the queen ant and the male ants also contributes to who will become the new queen. So, both genetic factors and nutritional intake can play the role of determining the caste system structure in a nest.

Read Also: Queen Ant Size: How Big is a Queen Ant?

How are Queen Ants Born?

After a queen ant mates with a swarm of male ants, it sheds its wings and starts its own colony. It never mates again in its life. It produces eggs at an enormous rate and the first few batches of eggs end up becoming the worker ants.

When the colony starts growing (and only then), the production of the male ants and then queen ants is initiated.

flying ants
Image: Male ants on a nuptial flight to breed with a queen.

As per recent studies, it is being found the ant larvas that become future queens are borne with a specific gene called the insulin-like peptide 2 (ILP2), which is properly expressed in them.

When worker and male ants are born, the ‘queen’ gene is not present, or at least nowhere near the extent to which it is present in the baby queen ant.

The presence of this gene allows the pupae of the queen ants to have insulin-like protein in the body which resembles the action of insulin in the human body. These insulin-like proteins allow them to very efficiently absorb glucose from the blood and hence make sure that they naturally get a larger dose of nutrition than the other ants. 

By default when all ants are in their larval stage, they receive a signal that automatically suppresses the expression of the insulin-like peptide 2 (ILP2).

ants
Most ants, like this swarm, are male worker ants.

This happens to make sure that only the ant larvae which have got a higher degree of expression for this gene will be able to overcome the impact of the strong impression signal and end up expressing the gene. The other ants won’t be able to express the ILP2.

Hence the queen ants are the only ant types that can express this protein properly.

The worker ants and the male ants, as a consequence of the improper expression of this gene, won’t have the ability to absorb glucose from the blood in larger amounts and hence won’t get the same dose of nutrition as the queen ants.

Environmental Factors in the Formation of Queen Ants

Researchers at Rockefeller University have found that the availability of better nutrition for future queen ants helps to enhance the chances of the baby ant growing into a queen ant.

The worker ants ensure that baby queen ants (queen ant larvae) receive a diet rich in protein as that will increase their probability of becoming the queen.

Hence, the ants which are already born with the ability to produce higher levels of ILP2 than the rest are in turn kept on a more nutritious diet than the others which in turn facilitates their better and larger growth.

When are Queen Ants Born?

When the weather conditions are tough or there is a severe shortage of food, the queen ants won’t be produced in this state. The worker ants won’t treat any of the eggs in any special way in such times.

Queen ants are only being produced when the ant colony is in its stable state and there is an availability of a large number of worker ants which will further help in the enhancement of the colony.

ant nest
The Queen ant spends most of her life safely hidden in the ant nest.

What does the Queen Ant Do?

The queen ant is the only ant in the colony that can lay eggs. This means it shoulders the gigantic responsibility of continuing the colony’s growth and expansion.

There are indeed other castes of ants in the colony which also play an important role in the proper functioning of the colony.

However, the queen ant is the only reason all these other kinds of ants exist in the first place. Also, the queen ants are responsible for the production of new future queens which further will establish their own colonies.

Can There Be Multiple Queen Ants in a Single Colony?

Many ant colonies have multiple queens which keep on producing eggs at a parallel rate.

This helps in the rapid enhancement of the colony at least in the initial stages.

However later on as the colony grows a fight for the throne is quite commonly seen which goes on until only a single queen remains in the colony.

Surprisingly the worker ants are the ones who get rid of the queens and don’t stop until only one queen remains in the colony.

However, at times they can even end up killing all the queens of the colony which ultimately is kind of a biological suicide as the colony growth will stagnate after that.

In most cases, an ant colony contains a single queen who ultimately ends up producing multiple princesses or virgin queens along with male ants. When they mature, the princess ants leave the colony along with the male ants and after mating establishes their own colony.

Read Also: What would happen if Ants Went Extinct?

Conclusion

There are multiple reasons behind the formation of the queen ants. Earlier it was only left on environmental reasoning where it was stated that queen larvae are fed on high protein-rich diets and only because of that these larvae develop into queen ants.

However recent studies have shown that along with that factor the genetics of those particular larvae also play an important role. The genetics of those ants helps them to express the ILP2 gee in a better way that in turn helps them to better absorb nutrition from their blood.

All these factors allow them to grow in a structurally better way and to be fertile.

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