How ants mate? — Ciara’s student essay

How Ants Mate?

All About Ants

A common experience across the globe, with the exception of Antarctica, is coming across an ant infestation. Whether it be growing up watching the anthill at the park or looking for solutions to the ant problem in the kitchen as an adult, everyone has dealt with ants. Although interactions with ants may be a shared human experience, knowledge about ants is less common one.

When you look at an individual ant apart from the colony it may seem like a simple insect but if you take a step back you can see that the colony is a complex social organization with its own hierarchy. 

Within the colony there are different types of ants that have their own specific duties. An ant colony may have one or more queen ants, a group of worker ants, soldier ants, and drones. The average colony has one queen ant who’s only job is to lay eggs to keep the colony thriving. 

Worker ants complete tasks like tending to eggs, feeding, and cleaning the young, as well as cleaning and supplying the anthill. Soldier ants live up to their name by defending their colony but more specifically the queen.

ant workers

This can involve killing for food or even competing colonies of ants. The last category found within the colony would be the drone ants. Drone ants serve one purpose and one only, to mate with the queen. Drone ants die after mating and are never seen outside of the colony like worker or soldier ants would be. Each ant provides a service that is essential to the survival of the colony.

As her name would suggest, the queen ant holds an important role inside the colony. The queen is responsible for laying the eggs for the new generation of ants. This system of one female being responsible for the entire repopulation is known as a eusocial colony. The queen ant is not responsible for any of the care or raising of the young, this is sole the responsibility of the worker ants.

When the queen mates with drone ant she will lay female egg but if a queen ant does not mate, she will lay male eggs. Female eggs will be the future worker and soldier ants of the colony, whereas the male eggs will become the drone ants. 

All of the eggs will hatch into worm-like larvae. The larvae are headless and incapable of caring for themselves, this is where the worker ants come in to feed them until they mature into adults. Similar to butterflies, ants go through a pupa phase before fully maturing. During the pupa phase the ants are covered in a hard substance which eventually forms the legs, antenna, and rest of the mature ant body.

The process of creating a queen ant is not determined during mating like it is for the gender of the ant but in the upbring of the ant. When raising a queen ant, the worker ant will provide a high-quality diet that will allow them to develop into a queen. This diet allows them to grow larger as a larva and develop a different shape during their pupa phase. 

The queen ant will be a winged ant that leaves the colony to mate and eventually settle their own ant colony. Once they have established their colony the queen ant will lose her wings and start laying her own eggs thus restarting the cycle.

While ants may seem like uneventful and sometimes unwelcome creatures, there is clearly a lot more going on underneath the surface.

Author: Ciara Casalino

Durham College
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