Ant Colonies and Their Structure

Ants are wonderful organisms that live in complex social colonies. The term “ant colony” describes more than just the physical habitat of ants. It also constitutes the social rules by which ants organize themselves and the roles they play within their community. Here, we discuss ant colonies and the ways they are structured.

Different kinds of ants found in a colony

Ants may strike you as disorderly, given the way they appear to scurry around all over each other with no obvious organization. However, it’s actually the opposite. Ants form very orderly societies. Every ant in a colony has a task, and thus its own place, which ensures that the colony is efficient and can flourish. 

Queens

The queen ant in any ant colony is the founder of the colony. Her main function is reproduction, one of the most important roles in the colony. She stores sperm in a special organ and uses this sperm to fertilize her eggs and expand the colony. The queen’s chamber is located deep within the colony to protect her against predators.

Queens live longer than drones and worker ants. Some even live as long as 30 years. Queen ants initially have wings, which they remove after mating, and are larger in size than the average ant.  Depending on the species of ants, a colony can have more than one queen.

Workers

Most ants are female, though typically only queens lay eggs. Her daughters are worker ants. Worker ants do most of the jobs that maintain colony survival, with different workers performing different roles. They can live for up to three years.

Some worker ants remain in the nest to take care of the queen and her eggs and larvae. These workers are typically young. Slightly older workers enlarge the nest, keep it clean, and prepare and store food. The oldest worker ants leave the nest to locate food and defend the colony. Wherever they go, they leave a chemical trail behind so they can find their way back home. 

Drones

Drones are male ants whose only function is to mate with a future queen. They die upon completion of their duty, usually only a few weeks after they hatch. They are found within a colony until they mature, when they leave in search of a mate.

Alates

Alates are simply winged ants (drones and future queens) that strike out from the colony. Female alates that survive and mate with a male alate will start a new colony.

A lifespan of an ant colony

After an ant colony has been established, it can persist for a long time. Some even outlive their queens, although typically colonies die out when the queen dies. The average lifespan of ant colonies depends on species.

Fire ant colonies may last for up to 7 years, while carpenter ants can have colonies that flourish for more than 10 years. 

Average ant population in a colony

The average population of ants in a colony also depends on species. Some species can even form supercolonies, vast networks of multiple colonies. Supercolonies can extend for hundreds of miles and house millions of ants.

Other ant species form smaller, individual colonies with a single queen and do not cooperate with other nests.

No matter what type of ant you spot in your area, there is a nest nearby where hundreds more live. If you need to get rid of ants around your home, it is virtually impossible to eliminate the entire colony. Your best option is to keep them out of your home and remove food and water sources from your property.

Lastly, keep in mind that all ant mounds are well-defended. Some ants even sting or bite intruders. Therefore, when you are gearing up for ant mound destruction, make sure to protect yourself so you don’t get hurt.

6 Comments

Johnina

Very professional and informative.

    Karen

    Thank you, Johnina. Glad you found the article informative!

    W

    Howdy folks, fun little article, just some points, workers are not set into one role, they just do whatever is required at the time. This means they do whatever pheremone task they detect. Ants will detect a task needing to be done, and they’ll leave a pheremone trail to cue other nearby workers to help out. Also there’s no leader in ant colony. Ants just do what’s required. They protect the queen and nest at all costs. In polygamous colonies, if a queen is sick, or if they’re is not enough food to go around for quite some time, they’ll cull a queen for the survival of the colony. It’s basically communism.

    Insectcop

    Hi! Thanks a lot for the additional info!

Christiana

Hi please can u use your as a reference for my research on ants

    Karen

    Sure, go ahead. Good luck with your research!

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