Depending on the ant’s species and weather conditions, the reproduction process is very fast. It will take about 6 to 12 months for a healthy colony of tens to hundreds of thousands of ants to be established.
In most species, eggs placed at a temperature slightly above room temperature take one to two weeks for the eggs to hatch. After this, the ant goes through a series of stages before it becomes a fully grown worker ant at about 45 days.
In general, you can expect:
- The egg to hatch within 6 days
- Larval stages to be completed within 22 days
- The prepupal stage to take 3 days
- The pupal stage to take 12 days
After the pupal stage, the ant is considered a fully grown adult worker ant.
Queen ants continuously lay eggs. For example, the army ant queen can lay up to 300,000 eggs each day. Some species have more than one queen, and the queen lives for around 2-20 years, depending on the species.
The queens can use the stock of sperm acquired from dead males and lay eggs for their entire lives.
The Ant Life Cycle – from Egg to Adult
Ants have a full metamorphosis starting with egg, larvae, pupa, and finally adult.
Egg: The eggs are laid by the ant at a very fast pace. She can lay hundreds of thousands of eggs. An egg will take about 6 days to hatch into larvae.
Larvae: The Larvae are transparent white and without legs. During this stage, the larvae constantly molt, and it takes a short period for them to metamorphose into pupae. Depending on ants’ species and environmental conditions, it takes between 6 to 12 days for the larvae to transition into pupae.
Pupae: Pupae resemble adult ants, but their color is not as dark as that of adults. To protect themselves at the pupae stage, they cover themselves, but others remain uncovered until they have metamorphosized into adulthood. Similarly, depending on environmental conditions and ant species, it takes around 9 and 30 days to transition into adults.
Adults: Adult ants contain a hard exoskeleton and light in color. However, after some time, the color darkens. Adults ants are grouped into three castes including, sterile female workers or male and queens.
How do Ants Lay Eggs?
Ants live in colonies that are made up of one queen and thousands of worker ants. The role of the queen is to lay eggs.
The queen only mates once in its lifetime. The queen stores the male sperm in a pouch and systematically releases the sperms to fertilize the eggs she lays.
It is also the role of the queen to produce winged males and females. The winged males and female scurries off from their colonies in search of new breeding areas where they start their colonies. The winged female mates with the winged male. After mating, the winged female loses its wings, and the male dies.
Once a queen has mated, it takes between a few hours to a week for it to start laying eggs. Depending on an ant’s species, the queen can lay hundreds or thousands of eggs per day. The queen determines the sex of the ants.
The queen produces a chemical that prohibits wings growth and the development of larvae. Most of the ants in a colony are female. Therefore, inhibiting the growth of wings and ovary developments, ensuring that there is no in-house fertilization and a sufficient number of worker ants.
However, if the colony has a sufficient number of workers, it produces winged females and males. These winged females and males leave the colony to start their own.
What the Life Span of Ants?
The life span of ants depending on the species. There are some ants’ species with extended life span while others have shortened life span. For example, Myrmica Rubra queen species are believed to have fewer than three years of life expectancy.
However, some queen species have a life expectancy of between 14 and 29 years. Leafcutter queen ant has an estimated life expectancy of 14 years, while Lasius niger queen ants can live for up to 28 years.
Worker ants do not live long and mostly die within five weeks. However, they certain ant species that can live for months.
What is the Ant Hierarchy?
Ants have a hierarchy, and it defines the roles and functions of each hierarchical level. The class level of each ant is defined at birth and remains so for its entire lifespan. The lowest rank is the worker ants.
The role of the worker ants is to source food, dig tunnels, defense, cleaning nests, and looking after young ants. Workers ants are sterile females.
It is important to note that, under worker ants, there are larger ants whose main role is to protect the nest and split down food. Smaller worker ants are regarded as nursing ants, and their main role is to look after the eggs and the young.
In the colony, there are female alates. Female alates are winged young virgin queens. When the alates reach adulthood, they leave the colony to start their colonies.
Similarly, there are winged male ants in a colony. The winged male ant’s role is to mate with the female alate. However, mating is not done in the colony but outside the colony.
There are smaller in size compare to the female alates. Mating occurs during the nuptial flight. Once mating has occurred, the male ant’s lose their wing and live a life of isolation for a short while until they die.
On the other hand, the females become queens and start their colonies using the sperm stock collected from the males.
There are also ant species that develop new colonies in the same nest. Ants are social creatures, and if a nest has multiple queens, they all harmoniously work together. Furthermore, each queen has her worker ants.
Ants may also reproduce through a process referred to as colony budding. This form of reproduction lacks mating swarms. It is a process that occurs when worker ants relocate one or more fertile queens to another nest. An example of ant species that practice budding is the Eciton burchelli.
The reproduction process of ants is very fast. It allows for a continued supply of workers ants, considering that they have a limited life span of a few weeks.
Furthermore, the production of winged female and male ants contributes to the thriving of ants colonies. Therefore, the queen, over time, must produce female alates to mate with fertile males.
Although thousands of winged females and winged males leave the nest simultaneously, only one or time survives to reproduce. It is believed that a queen ant such as the leafcutter, which has a life span of 14 years, can produce more than 100 million worker ants during that period.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.