Insects are fascinating, and none more so than ants. Want to know why? They have the largest brain of any animal out there, in proportion to their size, of course, and they’re able to build cities and farms, albeit tiny ones.
We all know ants have a sophisticated way of communicating with each other (no, it’s not using emojis), but recent studies show they are able to ‘talk’ to one another. Ants are also intelligent enough to know that they need a woman to keep things running smoothly.
But not just any female will do. The ant queen is in charge, and they can make or break colonies. They’re responsible for finding a nest, populating it with workers and drones, and ensuring its success.
Just like humans are obsessed with royalty, we’re a little obsessed with queen ants and have gathered 15 amazing facts for you.
1. A Queen Ant Is Born With Wings
While some royalty is said to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth, a queen ant is born with wings. She is known as a princess until she leaves the nest and mates with male ants to start her own colony.
2. The Queen Ant Has A Particular Task
The queen ant’s role is more breeder than leader. Although she is looked after by the other ants, she doesn’t have the authority to boss them around. Instead, they keep her fed and make sure she’s clean so that she can focus on producing babies.
3. Queen Ants Live A Long Time
It would appear that living a royal life is one of the secrets to living a long one. While worker ants and drones have a lifespan of a few months to a few years. A queen ant, on the other hand, can live for up to 30 years.
4. You Can Identify A Queen Ant By The Size Of Her Chest
Contrary to popular belief, not all queen ants are bigger than the rest of the colony. Yes, the leafcutter queen dwarfs the other ants in the nest, but how do you identify the queen when she’s only slightly bigger, or in some cases, smaller than her subjects?
It’s easy, she’s got a bigger chest, or rather, thorax. This is where the main flight wings are situated, and even when she loses them, the little stubs help her stand out from the other ants.
5. And By How Much Attention She Gets
If you’re battling to identity the queen by her thorax, wings, or lack of them, you can spot the queen ant by her attentive entourage. She is continuously surrounded by ants tending to her every need.
6. Queen Ants Mate In The Sky
Did you know queen ants invented the mile high club? Okay, not really, but mating does take place in the air (hence the need for wings). Known as ‘flying ant day,’ the queen ants and males leave their nests in search of a mate.
After mating has taken place, the queen will shed her wings and find a spot to make a new nest. She then burrows into the ground and gets ready to start laying eggs. It’s not such a happy ending for the males. After they’ve mated, they drop back to the ground… and die.
7. Queen Ants Store Sperm
Unlike animals that mate to produce babies, queen ants mate only once and then save the sperm in a sac called the spermatheca. When the queen is ready to reproduce, she opens a tiny valve and releases more sperm. She’s able to do this for 25 years.
8. Queen Ants Are Baby-Making Machines
The queen ant, like most other female insects, is oviparous, which means egg-laying. But unlike other insects that lay their eggs and then go about their daily lives, that’s all a queen ant does. She’s pretty much a baby-making machine and boy, does she take her job seriously. Queen ants can lay up to 300,000 eggs in just two or three days.
9. The Queen Ant Decides The Sex Of The Eggs
Did you know that the queen ant decides the sex of the eggs? Yup, the eggs she fertilizes become female workers or winged princesses. To produce thousands of female worker ants, the queen secretes a particular chemical that prevents ovaries from developing as well as wing growth. Unfertilized eggs develop into winged males. The male ant’s sole purpose is to mate with a queen.
10. Some Queen Ants Reproduce Without A Male
Some insects, including ants, can reproduce without a male. This is called parthenogenesis or clonal reproduction and is especially useful when there’s a shortage of males. In these instances, the entire colony will consist of females.
11. Some Colonies Choose To Have More Than One Queen
More often than not, there will only be one queen, but some colonies can have up to three queen ants at a time. Single-queen nests are called a monogyne, while those with two or three queens are known as polygenes. Argentine ants, for example, can have hundreds of queen ants in one nest.
Having more than one reproducing queen ant helps grow the colony quicker and ensures its survival should the queen die (more on this later).
12. Transporting A Queen Ant From One Nest To Another Takes Military Precision
When ants move from one nest to another, it takes military precision to keep their queen safe. Some species travel with a retinue, guarding the queen to protect her from possible predators. Others have an army in the front and more at the back, with the queen safely positioned in the middle. There are even species of ants that carry their queen from one nest to the next.
13. Queen Ants Can Be Overthrown
For the most part, ants live a happy, albeit busy existence. But every now and then, they become disgruntled and overthrow the queen. It usually happens in nests where there is more than one queen, or when the colony decides it needs more males. By killing the queen, female workers can lay eggs. The attack is brutal, involving biting and acid been sprayed and can last for a few days.
14. A Queen Ant Will Do Whatever It Takes To Stay In Power
If the queen senses a possible mutiny, she will do whatever it takes to stay in power, even if it means the collapse of her colony. Queen ants, to remain in charge, will weaken the colony by producing fewer workers. This leaves her in a stronger position to fight off an attack.
15. When The Queen Dies, The Rest Of The Colony Dies Too
In colonies where there is only one queen, they’ll die when she does. This doesn’t happen straight away. In fact, the ants will carry on searching for food, feeding the larvae, and building their nest, but over time, the population decreases in size and eventually dies off because new eggs aren’t being laid.
There are so many fascinating facts about ants and more so the queens that reign over them. From how they reproduce asexually to choosing the sex of the eggs and storing sperm for up to 25 years. It’s little wonder people build their own ant farms so they can get up close and personal with these industrious little creatures.