Did you know ants rely on a queen for survival? Without her, the colony would collapse and eventually vanish. The queen ant is notably different from other ants thanks to her vast size and unique colors. Below are 10 more intriguing facts about queen ants and why they’re so important.
1. Queen Ants Are Huge!
On average, a queen ant measures anywhere from 1/2 to one-inch long, compared to a worker ant, which on average is only one-eighth of an inch long. However, this length will vary depending on the species. For instance, the Dinoponera genus has queen ants that are almost two inches long. The largest queen ant on Earth is the Titanomyrma giganteum, which is 2.4 in long with a wingspan of 5.9 centimetres.
2. Queen Ants Live A Long Time!
Unlike some insects where the queen only lives for a few months or years, queen ants can live to be a staggering 90 years old. Because of this, they are believed to be one of the oldest insects in the world.
If there isn’t a new queen ant to take over, the colony will slowly start to die off. The process might take a few years or go quickly if predators are around.
3. What Do Queen Ants Eat?
Queen ants typically eat proteins from their decaying muscles to survive. They will also consume other things that their workers bring them because they don’t usually hunt for their own food. While the diet given to her will vary, some items the queen might eat include small insects, seeds, nectar, and leaves.
As the queen lays her eggs, the workers will try to help her out by feeding her extra food and quickly disposing of waste.
4. QueenAnts Have Wings and Can Fly
Queen ants feature wings that connect to their abdomen. Their abdomens are significantly larger than worker ants and have wing muscles built into them. The only reason she needs these wings is to perform her nuptial flight.
With their wings, they will fly to various nests with winged male ants so they can mate. After this is done, the queen will find a burrow to nest in. When she discovers the perfect spot to lay her eggs, she will remove her wings.
While it might seem like taking the wings off would take only a few seconds, it can be a very lengthy process. A queen ant can have up to four wings. After she finds a nesting place, she will sit in it and start slowly pulling the wings off. The queen will press down on each wing with her leg and carefully remove it from her body. The wing muscles left behind in her body will become the main source of food for her as she begins to lay her eggs.
5. Queen ants are chosen when they are larva by the colony.
Once the colony has determined which they’d like to make their leader, they will feed her a unique food mixture to ensure she develops strong muscles and a healthy reproductive system. After she is born, worker ants are able to tell who their queen is simply by looking at her appearance.
This is the most common way that an ant becomes a queen, but in some ant species it’s a bit different. For instance, in a few, the future queen might camouflage herself as a worker before she’s later promoted to queen. When she is, her body will become larger thanks to an increase in hormones so she can begin her journey.
6. Without The Queen, The Colony Will Slowly Die Off
Queen ants are responsible for the survival of the colony. They are the only ones who are capable of laying eggs and should they die, there will be one one to replace them. Once the worker ants start to die, the colony will slowly start to wind down until it has disappeared.
7. Queen Ant Lay An Enormous Amount Of Eggs
The queen ant has one sole job – to reproduce. Because of this, she lays an incredible amount of eggs. Over the course of a few days, a queen ant will lay up to 300,000 eggs.
The eggs the queen mainly lays are workers. The workers are all females and have the job of providing for the colony and taking care of the young.
The queen will only lay male eggs when the colony needs to produce more ants. Similar to the queen, the males will have small wings. Unlike the female eggs, male eggs aren’t fertilized. Once a male is born, his sole purpose is to mate with the queen and then die.
8. Queens Can Have a Mutiny Against Them
You might be surprised to learn that while queens are generally respected in their colony, they could face a mutiny. This occurs when there is more than one queen and the ants faithful to a certain one fight against the others.
If there is a rebellion, worker ants will quickly charge the queen and start spraying her with acid. Worker ants tend to go for the queen ant who is less fertile (something they can detect through chemical odors).
Before this though, many queen ants can sense when an attack might happen and will start preparing. For instance, she might not lay a lot of eggs at first as a way to protect herself.
However, worker ants need to be careful when trying to kill off a queen. Many tend to get carried away with the process and might accidentally try to murder their own queen.
9. Virgin Queen Ants Take a Nuptial Flight to Create Their Own Colony
A virgin queen ant will fly to another nest to find a mate. This is known as her nuptial flight. The flight is solely for reproductive purposes. The virgin queen will stay in her colony until flying conditions are perfect, such as clear weather and plenty of sun. The queen can sense environmental changes so she’s able to determine the right day to fly.
All the queen ants and males tend to fly at the same time, a process designed to confuse their predators and increase their odds of mating. As she flies through the air, she will release pheromones to attract a male’s attention.
While it’s up to her to find a suitable male partner, males are busy preparing for her arrival. They leave their pupa case and soon develop strong reproductive systems. Once their body is fully developed, they fly out of their colony on the nuptial flight day to find a queen.
A queen ant will usually mate with multiple males during the day. She will look for a male outside of her colony as a way to prevent inbreeding. The sperm is then sent into the spermatheca where it will stay for the rest of her life to help fertilize eggs.
10. After Sex Queen Ants Don’t Eat for Weeks
Once the queen ant has mated, she will search for an adequate nesting site and then hide in it. After doing so, she will stay inside this nest and not eat, sometimes for weeks. Instead, she will get energy from her flight muscles and fat as she starts to lay the eggs inside the nest.
Queen ants are fascinating insects and have one important job – to ensure their species survives. While they live a somewhat pampered life, they have to watch out for a few things, especially colony rebellions.