The Life Of An Ant

Suddenly it buzzes and swarms in the air, a black cloud hums through the forest: Thousands of winged ants are on the move and meet at their mating sites. Time for the Ant wedding flight.


The wedding flight

The ants’ impressive wedding flight usually takes place in spring. Depending on the type of ant, the time is different and depends on the season and weather.

During the wedding flight, the females, who are called queens after mating, receive many millions of sperm cells. They keep these in the so-called seed pouch for several years, in some cases even more than 20 years. This supply must last the queen for her whole life. The workers are not mated, they are sterile.

After mating, the males die. The fertilized females shed their wings and either found a new state or they find an existing ant colony to take them in.

From spring to autumn the queens are then busy laying eggs. Read more about ants ( ) Wood ant queens produce around 300 eggs a day, one type of driver ants even manages 50 million a year.

From egg to insect

After the egg is laid, the workers immediately take over the egg and bring it to a nest chamber with optimal temperature and humidity conditions. Here the ants nurses lick the eggs regularly so that they stay clean and do not dry out. When the small ant larva finally hatches from the egg, the larval time begins.

The ant larvae are maggot-shaped, without legs or eyes. The larvae still have to be fed and cleaned by the brood carers. Despite the soft larval skin, the growing ant has to repeatedly shed the old, too small body shell. This process can be repeated between three and six times.

When the larva moults for the last time, the so-called prepupa becomes the actual pupa, in which one can already recognize the typical characteristics of an ant: the structure of the body, the mouthparts and antennae.

The dolls are also looked after and guarded by the workers. Finally, the brood carer helps the fully developed ant to hatch from the cocoon.

Male or female?

The development from egg to ant takes different times in different species. It takes about six weeks for the wood ant.

The life expectancy of an ant also depends on its species and gender. While the males die shortly after the wedding flight, the workers live for an average of two years. Only the queens are very long-lived, they are between ten and 20 years old.

The queen alone determines whether the egg will develop into a male or a female. If the eggs do not receive sperm when they are deposited – i.e. if they remain unfertilized – males develop from them. Workers and sexually active females (the later queens) arise from fertilized eggs.

Many factors decide whether the larva becomes a worker or a sexually active female: the amount and quality of the food, the temperature and humidity in the nest, the length of the day, the size and yolk content of the eggs and the age of the queen.

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