After 7 to 14 days, ant eggs begin their transformation into adult ants. They begin to hatch and as nature always has it, the head comes out first. Therefore, the ant larvae look almost like the ant eggs, the only difference being that this time, the eggs have tiny heads that are always hungry for food. The other difference is that the larvae are, to some extent, mobile. They can be seen wiggling and shifting positions, in order to get the attention of the worker ants, who very loyally feed them.
Physically, the ant larvae are white, slightly transparent and hook like forms. They have sticky hairs in their surfaces, which serve the same purpose as the sticky outer covering of the ant eggs. The adhesiveness allows for the larvae to stick together during transportation times.
As earlier mentioned, ant larvae spend most of their developing time eating. The worker ants feed them mostly with proteins which are very necessary in the body building process. The workers digest these foods first and grind them to liquid form and then regurgitate them and feed them to the larvae. This is because liquid is easier to digest as opposed to solid food. However some researchers have found that some ant species feed the larvae with solid food that has been cut down to very tiny particles.
Ant larvae stage is important
The larvae stage of the ant life cycle seems to be the most important because this is when the life role or responsibilities of the ants are chosen. Depending on the amount of food they are given, an ant can either become a queen, male or worker. The amount of food and size of the ant decreases respectively, with the worker ant being the smallest. Some research has found that change in the amount of food given to the larvae may change the role that the ant may eventually play.
However ant larvae are not all liability as it may seem. In some ant species, such as the weaver ants, the silk produced by ant larvae is used to stitch together leaves that are used to build ant nests. The ant larvae also seem to have an ability that the older ants don’t. Recent research has shown that larvae assist in the digestion of some foods that the adult ants need but cannot digest on their own due to their tiny waists.
The adult ants therefore take these foods and put them on the belly side of the larvae. During this time, the ant larvae instinctively lie on their backs. They then produce enzymes from the digestive gland openings that are distributed all over the body of the larvae. These enzymes begin to work on the foods, slowly breaking them into a thick liquid. The worker ants then come and feed on the food while taking some to the queen. The larvae seem not to feed on this but solely depend on what the worker ants feed them.
However, an ant specialist, William Wheeler (1918), seems to have a different opinion on the same. Although he agrees with the fact that the larvae have enzymes that help in the digestion of food, he proposes that the larvae do eat this food as well and do not always wait on the regurgitations of their senior companions. He also writes that the larvae do not lie on their back necessarily because the glands are present only on that side but because while they do so, their bellies act like some sort of table for them and the worker ants.
Mr. Wheeler also challenges the theory that larvae survive only on liquids. He points out that during his study of three species of ants, he found out that larvae are fed on solid food, especially small particles of insects such as caterpillars, flies and termites. He also observes that if hungry, some of the bigger larvae feed on the small larvae that are within reach of their mandibles.
Another use that the larvae have, is that in times of food scarcity, they serve as a source of food. Cruel as it may seem, the queen has to stay alive as she is the hope of the colony’s survival. The worker ants therefore do whatever they have to do to ensure her health and wellbeing. Even if it means feeding her babies to her.
The larvae stage seems to also have some sub stages. It has been observed that larvae develop in some stages referred to as molting and in each stage, the larvae shed their skin. In total, the larvae may shed skin at least three times. Although most of the ant species let the larvae develop on their own without much manipulation, fire ants have been seen to assist their larvae during the shedding of skin and removal of unwanted substances. They also constantly lick, transport and fiercely defend them against any kind of intrusion. Perhaps the larvae are as important as the queen.
The scientist Wheeler used some collected larvae to observe and get some insight into how larvae develop. He concludes that although it is not definite for the thousands of species of ants, most have their larvae developing in four distinct stages. These stages involve the changes in the physical and internal mechanisms of the larvae.
Ant larvae change in size, becoming bigger and straighter at each stage. While the first stage of the larvae looks more like an egg, the last one takes the shape of an adult ant. The head also develops, with the mandibles becoming sharper and more functional as opposed to how they started out; blunt and small.
The hairs on the body also vary in terms of texture and physical appearance. The first stage of the larvae has softer, and shorter hair that appear to have some shine on them. However as the larvae gradually moves on to its fourth development stage, the hairs become rough with hook like tips. At the end of the fourth stage, the larvae seem to have developed a way of excretion and this appears to be in the form of one black solid pellet that protrudes at the end of the larvae’s bodies.