Ants are among the tiniest yet very organized and constructive beings on earth. They come in different species including red ants, black ants, carpenter ants and sugar ants. However, despite these differences, ants have a general life cycle with 4 stages: egg-larva-pupa-adult.
Stage 1: Egg
This is the beginning of life for all ants. The queen ant, is the mother of all ants in a colony and most of her life is dedicating to laying eggs. A queen ant will lay up to 300,000 eggs in a couple of days. These eggs are what ensure the continuity of the colony. The eggs can either be fertilized or unfertilized. The fertilized eggs produce the female ants that end up as princess ants or worker ants. Female worker ants are sterile. The unfertilized ones on the other hand hatch to male ants who help in fertilizing the queen ants.
Ant eggs assume an oval shape, with soft, sticky white outlines. The stickiness of the eggs is not coincidental. It allows for the eggs to clump together for easy storage. It also comes in handy when there is trouble or need for relocation. The worker ants will have an easy time carrying a load of sticky eggs with the assurance that they will not fall or break. It is also faster and easier to carry them in loads than one by one as they are very many. Ant eggs are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They take up to 14 days to hatch into the next stage.
Stage 2: Larvae
This is the second stage of an ant life that comes after the eggs hatch. The larvae are still small and white but this time they are transparent and have hairs on their surfaces. They are limbless and apart from their visible heads, they pretty much look like eggs. This stage consists mostly of feeding and lying around while they grow and change.
Feeding is very essential because it is what determines the eventual role that the adult ant will play in a colony. For example, among the female ants, the larvae that are most fed are the ones that will emerge to be queen ants while the rest are female workers.
Ant larvae are taken care of by the ant workers who make sure they are fed and their brooding cells are kept clean. During the first few days the larvae are given foods regurgitated from the adults’ stomachs but as they get ready to move into the next pupal stage, they are introduced to more solid food.
Stage 3: Pupae
If the ants survive to this stage, they are likely to get into adulthood. As pupae, the ants look more like adults than eggs. They produce a silk like thread that they wrap themselves around in to form a cocoon, inside which they continue to develop and grow. These cocoons can be larger in size than the adult worker ants. However this is not the case for all ant species. Some simply develop out into the open until they can become adults.
For the cocoon spinning ant species, a black dot can be seen at the end of the cocoons. This black dot is a collection of all the poisons and toxic substances the larvae may have collected during feeding, or any other method. Whether the pupa is in a cocoon or not, they all assume a foetal position where their heads are bent and their abdomen slightly raised. This stage takes between 10 to 12 days. During this stage, no food is ingested.
Stage 4 and final stage of the ant life cycle: Adult
Finally, after six to ten weeks, an adult ant emerges, with fully functioning limbs and systems. New adult ants tend to be lighter in color as compared to the rest of the colony but they end up darkening with time. The exoskeleton will also eventually harden. The adult ant, regardless of the species has six legs, a head, thorax and abdomen, and two feelers attached at the end of its head. Now depending on the size, age and sex of the ant, roles are assigned and the ants begin to work.
Here are the possible roles an adult ant may assume:
- Queen Ant
A queen ant is the single most important part of the colony because the existence of a colony solely depends on her. She is the mother of majority of the ants. Her work is mainly to lay eggs which will later hatch and become adult ants thus ensuring continuity of the colony.
A queen ant is the biggest ant. It is also the one that has the longest life span. It has been found that some queen ants live up to an incredible 30 years!
Depending on the species of ants, a colony may have one supreme queen or a number of queens. A queen ant is a fertile female ant, which at some point in her life develops wings and then takes part in a nuptial flight where she mates with a male ant. After receiving the sperm deposit, she will rip off her wings and find a suitable nesting area for her where she will lay her first eggs. These then hatch and develop into what are called “first born worker ants.”
The first born batch then instinctively assume roles and begin to build their colony. They create tunnels, build sells, feed, and groom and protect the queen mother and her eggs. From there, another generation emerges and with time the colony grows. The cycle then continues as such.
- Worker Ants
Worker ants are the female larvae that were not fed as much as the queen larvae. As a result they are smaller in size and are sterile. They instead do every other thing that has to be done in the colony. From building, to repairing, to cleaning, to hunting and gathering. Everything.
Worker ants are probably the ants that we see and sometimes fight very hard in our households. They are always in a constant move in a bid to look for food for themselves and their millions of sisters. And quite understandably so! However that one is a worker ant does not mean they do all chores at once. Inside the worker ants are further categories of cleaners, foragers, protectors and so forth. Worker ants can live up to 3 years.
- Soldier Ants
Although not present in all ant species, there are about 200 species that have soldier ants. As their names suggest, their work is to fight of predators and keep the colony safe especially from external harm. Soldier ants are usually bigger and stronger than worker ants. They may help during food collection and are seen to carry bigger loads than the average ants. They however have just about the same life span as worker ants.
- Male Ants
This is the last category of types of ant adults. Male ants are the fewest second to the queen ants. Male ants are a product of unfertilized eggs and carry only one chromosome. They have wings which they lose after mating with the queen ants. That brings us to the role of the male ants.
The only job male ants have is to fertilize the queen ants. During the perfect conditions for a nuptial flight, male ants get to fertilize the queen ants, then dying shortly after. This makes them the ants with the shortest life span. They can live up to 7 weeks.