There are approximately 10,000 ant species currently roaming the earth. They’re highly adaptable, so they live everywhere. However, they favour tropical forests. And thanks to their impressive proclivity for procreation, they make up more than half the insect population there.
So if you were wondering, do ants lay eggs? The answer is definitely yes. And they don’t do it like the birds do, with just a couple of tiny eggs in a nest. Ants lay tens of thousands of eggs in a day!
If you’d like to know more about the amazing life of ants, keep reading. Next, we’ll talk about the clever way queens find a mate, how they handle marital life, and how they start new colonies.
How Do Ants Procreate?
Ant colonies live by highly stringent rules and age-old order. These folks literally run a tight ship where every tiny little piece has to fall in place. One of these rules is that not all female ants can get married and have baby ants. Only the queen ants can.
Selecting an Adult Ant for Marriage
There are three (and a half) types of ants in the colony:
- Worker ants have to do all the chores. They are the hunter-gatherers of the colony.
- Nurse ants are also worker ants, but they’re too young for hard labour. So they take care of the eggs and the queen.
- Queen ants are the largest kind. They usually mate, lay eggs, and orchestrate life in the colony.
- Male ants are laid-back winged invertebrates. They mostly wait around till their mating services are needed.
In this hierarchy, only the winged queens and males, often known as alates, engage in procreation rituals.
Deciding to Lay More Eggs and Go Big
Ants reproduce regularly and seasonally. That’s how they maintain their large numbers and total dominance. It’s a matter of survival and prosperity for the species.
When the colony becomes too big or needs a younger generation of ants, the queen has to mate again.
Riding The Air To Find A Mate
Ants are often seen crawling on the ground. Yet, during late spring and summer, you’d see swarms of flying ants everywhere. These are the queen and male ants. Both of them need these wings to ensure the most efficient breeding.
The queen ants rarely mate with male ants from their colony. This is a severe measure to avoid inbreeding, which could weaken the genetic code of these insects. Inbreeding often comes with various vulnerabilities and risks to their species.
The mating rituals start with the queen flying as far away from the colony as possible. This is a leap of faith that the queen takes, and she roams around looking for a winged male. Eventually, she meets a male from another colony midair, and the sparks start flying!
Getting The Eggs Fertilised
A queen ant is often satisfied with having a single mate. Once she gets the male’s sperm, her advanced body can store it in an internal ‘sac’, where it stays viable.
Some animal behaviour scholars claim that the queen’s harvested sperm could stay fresh for twenty years. Thus, any time the queen needs to fertilise eggs throughout that time, she can just reach out to the sperm preserved in the sac. This way, she wouldn’t even need to mate seasonally.
Soon after the mating ceremony is finished, the wings disappear. The male disappears from the picture, and the queen ant then sets out to build a new colony. It’s all about new beginnings at this point.
Starting A New Colony With The Newly Laid Eggs
The next stage of this ant’s life is epic in its complexity and significance. The queen ant now has tens of thousands of fertilised eggs. She takes that precious load and looks for a suitable spot where she can build the new colony.
Sadly, not all queens survive that adventure. But the ones who do are really up to the challenging task. Finding the nest is a great moment, of course. She finally lays the eggs and sets the place in good order.
Since there are no other worker ants to help out at this stage, the queen does all the work. This always appears to be a labour of love and a strong commitment to survival.
One of the privileges of the queen ant is her ability to determine what will come out of the eggs. In the absence of her intervention, all the fertilised eggs will hatch new queens. But that wouldn’t be good for the colony.
The queen ant injects a chemical substance into the eggs to change that fate, which modifies their development. The nascent wings and ovaries stop growing, which gives rise to worker ants instead. Eventually, thousands of them come out of the nursery.
The queen ant still lets some of the eggs develop into young queens, as they’ll be needed in subsequent stages of the colony’s future. The male ants also start appearing, and they often come out of the unfertilised eggs.
The Circle Of Life .. For Ants
The worker ants grow from the tiny cream-coloured eggs that the queen laid and tended. They transform into larvae, which are mostly larger and more plump eggs.
The larval stage soon ends, and the baby ants become pupae. These are tiny ants that look very much like the adults, except for their tiny size.
The worker ants take a short while to become adults. And from then on, they change the colony entirely. Now the nest has enough workforce to expand and organise perfectly.
The queen lays new eggs, placed into carefully built chambers, where they are well taken care of. These successive breeding cycles create a vast number of worker ants, which produce a stronger colony.
The colony takes a few years of intensive labour to stabilise and become a powerful entity. The queen then produces more winged virgin queens and winged male ants when it grows excessively. At this point, the whole cycle starts again.
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