Most people won’t have any idea how an ant colony starts. Basically, it starts with a single queen. A queen will fly from their home nest along with other queen ants and males to other nests. The queen then searches for a mate and looks for common meeting places such as tall trees, hilltops, or shrubs. These are places where the queen and males can meet away from other nests.
To reproduce, a queen mates with one or more male ants while on the ground, low vegetation or in the air. After mating, she will start looking for a potential nesting site, which can vary from open soil to tree tops.
The queen will bite off her wings while she is still searching for a mate or when she is already looking for a nest. She bites her wings off, as she will no longer need it and then seals herself in her chosen nesting spot to lay a small batch of eggs until the brood develops.
For the growing larvae to have food, the queen specifically lays eggs that are called special trophic or unfertilized eggs. Nanitics or the first workers are smaller than the subsequent workers because the queen still has a limited food source compared to what foraging workers provide. As soon as the first batch of workers matures, they will start leaving the nest and start foraging to return with their captured prey or food for the queen as well as the new broods.
As the workers mature further, the colony also grows. There will be new workers taking care of the brood and bringing more food at the same time. This is the stage when the queen will have fewer activities and will only lay eggs. This is why continued ant control is needed, especially if you weren’t able to kill the queen or destroy the nest. The workers will take over most of the tasks inside the nest. Despite the reduced activity, the queen is still important for the colony as she produces chemical messages that control all the workers’ activities.
Stages in an Ant’s Life Cycle
There are over 12,000 ant species in the world and a few hundred are found in Canada. There is a specific percentage of species that are considered pests by homeowners. This means that ants have a variety of life cycles, depending on their habitat and species. A general summary of an ant life cycle is stated below:
Eggs / Baby Ants
Aside from the queen starting it all, the life cycle obviously starts with the eggs. The entire life cycle has four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. It takes about 6 to 10 weeks until each egg hatches and reaches its adult form. Ant eggs are very small and measure approximately 0.5 in diameter. It is white, transparent, and oval-shaped.
All female ants can lay eggs even if they are considered as working ants. All eggs have the same sticky and smooth surface that makes it easy for all the eggs to bond together and form a large mass that allows easy transportation for workers.
After about 7 to 14 days, the eggs will hatch and enter the larval stage. The larvae don’t have eyes or legs. They are transparent and white and look similar to maggots. They go through several moulting stages where they will grow hair. Some of these hairs are hooked to worker ants to carry them easily and for them to attach themselves. Ant larva eats the regurgitated juices and food that adult ant workers provide.
The larvae will go through several moults and then change into a pupa. You can differentiate it from the larvae as pupas have a waxy and white appearance and their legs and antennae are folded up. There are certain species that do not go through this stage.
The last stage in the life cycle is when the pupa becomes an adult. Fertilized eggs will hatch female ants while male ants are hatched from unfertilized eggs. Newborn ants have a soft and pale appearance. They transform into darker colours and their exoskeletons start to harden after several hours. The work assigned to female workers in ant colonies depends on their age. New ones are considered queen workers or caretakers to take care of laid eggs and enlarge the nest.As the adult ants reach a certain age, their work will change until they become a part of the worker ants. The continuous cycle inside the nest is what makes the colony larger. As more worker ants develop, there will be more foraging ants targeting human food and infesting your home. Thus, you need to find a proper solution or treatment to destroy the nest and prevent the colony from growing larger.