After 7 to 10 weeks of successful development, an adult ant emerges from the pupal stage of its life cycle. The adult stage is the last point of an ant’s development and also the most active. In general, there are three types of ant adults, although some species record four. These are queen ants, male ants and worker ants. The fourth and not generally common ones are soldier ants. Some species have the worker ants performing the duties of both soldiers and workers. However for the sake of knowledge, we shall look into all four categories.
Worker ants are the most common type of ants. They are the ones seen to be constantly on the move. They walk in files to and from their nest, sometimes empty handed and sometimes carrying loads that are way bigger than them. Outside the nest, the worker ants look for food, gather it and take it back to the nest. Their foods range from leaf particles to other insects such as termites, locusts, praying mantis and spiders.
Some of these insects may be dangerous or too big for the ants to kill themselves so instead they wait for them to die and collect them whole or in pieces. Worker ants have very strong mandibles that serve as their fork and knives while collecting food. They are also equivalent to human cranes. They use them to carry loads that may be up to twenty times their body weight.
Worker ants are the smallest of the colony yet the most hardworking. They are all assigned roles that ensure they are all contributing to the smooth flow and growth of the colony. Inside the colony worker ants clean, feed the queen, tend to the eggs and larvae, and constantly build tunnels and holding cells inside the nest. They also do any repairing needed to the walls and ceilings of their nests.
In the species where soldier ants are not present, worker ants take up the role of protection where they fight off any impending danger. During such threatening times, they also make sure the queen, eggs and larvae are safe and so will transport them to safer ground before saving themselves. Worker ants are diligent and loyal and when it comes to it, they will fight with their lives.
All worker ants are female. They come into being right from the time they are laid as eggs. Worker ants come from the fertilized eggs whose larvae are not fed as much as the rest. From the fertilized eggs emerge princess ants as well, but the amount of food they are fed at larval stage will determine whether the females will emerge as princesses or workers. Most times however, worker ants are the resulting outcome as a colony never has too many princesses.
In the species where soldier ants are present, they happen to be physically bigger than the worker ants. They also have bigger and stronger mandibles which they use to fight off intruders. If you have ever stepped on an ant hill or sat somewhere with ants underneath, then there are high chances that you have been stung by an ant. Ants however do not have stings like those of bees. They actually bite with their mandibles producing a similar sensation like that of a bee sting. While a bee will sting you and leave, an ant will bite and remain there until it is removed manually.
Apart from protection, the soldier ants, also known as major workers, help in harvesting and carrying of food. Because of their obvious advantage in strength, they assist the minor workers with hard tasks such as breaking open hard seeds, carrying larger loads and doing other heavy duty jobs. Some of the ant species with soldier ants present are the army ants, harvester ants and the leaf cutter ants.
Male Adult Ants
Next to the queen, male ants are the least in number. Male ants are as a result of unfertilized eggs. Male ants differ from the rest of the ants in two ways apart from their sex. They are bigger and have wings. The major role of the male ants is to mate with the princess ants, provide them with sperm that will last her a lifetime, and then die. While this is true for most ant species, some scientists have discovered that several ant species have the males assisting with work inside the nest.
Male ants may easily be confused for wasps. Male ants emerge when the weather conditions are suitable for their nuptial flight. This is when they come out of the nests, together with the princess ants and for a while mate. The nuptial flight or dance usually occurs at night, after a rainy day. It has to be dry and humid for the flight to be a success. Unfortunately after mating, the male ants lose their wings, drop to the ground and die.
Some researcher have explained the sudden death of the male ant to be due to the rapturing of their genitalia leading to harm of their bodies thus inability to live long after that. However some researchers have seen that this is not always the case as some males may live up to one month after mating. They also propose that the male ants do not necessarily lose their wings afterwards.
A queen ant is the mother of her colony. The life of a queen ant begins at conception, when her egg is laid. When she is in larval stage, she receives the most food as compared to all other larvae. As a result, as an adult, a queen ant is by far the biggest ant. However she does not become a queen automatically. There is a process followed.
Before being queen, she is a princess ant. This means that in her birth colony there is already a reigning queen. Most of the times princesses will leave their nests and build their own colonies outside. They will wait for the right environmental conditions where they will take part in the nuptial flight. They will mate with male ants and then fall to the ground. They will then pluck out their wings and crawl to a place they believe will be a good nest.
She will lay her eggs and for the period it takes for them to hatch, she will survive solely on her body fat. The first brood always produces worker ants. These are known as the first born worker ants. They instinctively begin carrying out their roles of cleaning, feeding the queen and building their colony. Afterwards, the princess ant, now queen, will have one major role; laying eggs.
Queen ants have large, oval abdomens. This makes their general stature bigger thus easy to spot in an ant colony. However this abdomen also holds the sperm pockets where the queen stored sperm from her nuptial flight. This sperm is what she will use when laying her fertilized eggs. Nevertheless, from time to time, the queen chooses not to take from her sperm bank and simply produce unfertilized eggs which give the male ants as aforementioned.
A colony, depending on their species, may have one or multiple queens. In the case where the queen in singular, her death may lead to the death of the rest of her colony. Although some ants are able to leave their colony and join a neighboring one, some end up dying one after another until the last one falls. Where there are multiple queens, then the death of one queen does not cause any disturbance in the colony. In fact, some worker ants have been found to kill off some of the excessive queens in the colony.
Scientists have discovered that a queen ant may live up to 30 years in total! This is more than ten times longer than the average worker ant who may live between 2 and 3 years maximum. Male ants on the other hand have an average lifespan of 7 weeks.