While it’s true that queen ants have wings at one point, they don’t keep them forever. In fact, how they lose them is quite shocking. Read on to learn the brutal details and other exciting ant facts.
The Royal Family
Image via Flickr by treegrow
Once upon a time a queen ant was born. The colony and life she led were much like a royal household in Europe centuries ago. She grew up, found a mate, and began living on her own.
Attendants pampered and cared for the queen. They brought her food and cleaned her, and worker nannies cared for her babies. She even gave birth to princesses and princes (drones), who continued the royal bloodline.
Sounds similar to the stuff you read in fairy tales, doesn’t it? Just like a real-life, old-fashioned queen, her primary duty in life is to produce offspring to further her colony and that she does well.
A queen ant can live for a decade, laying hundreds of thousands of eggs. Her eggs are either female workers, future queens, or male drones. It’s the queen herself that decides which eggs become royalty. She accomplishes this by fertilizing the eggs she chooses to upgrade.
All worker ants are female, but they aren’t capable of reproducing. It’s only the princess ants that are bestowed such an honor. Royal females have ovaries that workers do not have. They are also larger and have wings.
The colony is hopeless without the queen. If she dies without another related queen to replace her, the colony will gradually die off. The average worker ant lives two or three months. Without the birth of new ants, the colony doesn’t have a chance.
Why Do Queen Ants Have Wings?
In most ant species, queen ants and male drones are born with wings. An exception to this is with the army ant; only males have wings. Ants need wings to fly off and mate and start their own colony away from home base.
The flying ants from around the area meet up for a mating fest. This ritual assures a higher success rate at finding matches. If you’ve seen large swarms of flying ants, this is what you were witnessing. The length of the mating fest depends on how many ants are participating.
Some colonies have more than one queen, but the extra queen is often killed off by the workers. They prefer to serve one true queen, the one who is most fertile. This practice explains the need to fly away to mate and reproduce; it reduces the chance of being killed in the birth colony.
The queen mates with as many males as she can to store enough sperm in her abdomen to last her a lifetime. During this process, a queen ant can be seen walking around with a male drone attached to her backside. Once mating is over, the male will soon die.
When done mating, the queen will fly to a suitable spot to start her colony. Once there, the queen ant will remove her wings. Some species chew them off, others chew them off and eat them, and others rip them off with their legs. They no longer need them for mating purposes.
Immediately after, she encases herself beneath the earth in a burrow and begins laying eggs. If she survives the initial incubation period without food, the first generation of offspring is cared for and nurtured by the queen herself.
Subsequent generations take over all duties of care for the colony. Going forward, the cycle continues to repeat itself.
Where Are Ant Kingdoms Located?
You’ll find ant colonies in protected areas where they can burrow down and build their home. Places include:
- Dead trees
- Underneath wood piles
- In the ground
- Under pavement
A Harvard experiment found that they can travel up to 26 feet from home. These travels are often for food. When they find a supply, they leave a chemical scent along the floor or ground so that other workers can find their way back to the source.
Identifying the Queen
The queen is easy to spot among other ants. The first thing you’ll notice is her size. She’s enormous compared to worker ants, and she needs to be. Her more substantial body gives support to her wings and plenty of room to produce eggs. The area below her neck is at least twice the size of a worker ant.
Not all queen ants have wings, so don’t count on that as an identifier. Like we said earlier, queen ants that have already mated will no longer have wings. Queens from species such as the army ant don’t have wings either. If it’s a newly mated queen, you’ll see small stubs on her sides where they used to be.
Another way to distinguish the queen is by how much attention she gets from the rest of the ants. They are slightly obsessed and usually climbing all over her, tending to her every need.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Ants with wings are mistaken for termites. But there’s an easy way to tell the difference between flying ants and termites. Learn the signs:
- Flying ants have three segments in their bodies and termites only have two.
- Ants are much thinner than termites.
- Ants have bent antennas, and termites have straight ones.
- A termite’s wings are the same size, whereas ants have more massive front wings.
Enemies and War
Image via Flickr by AdaMacey
Ants are surprisingly strategic and organized in war. Much like human soldiers, ants are committed to battle and will fight to the death. Besides working together to bring down an enemy, they also use superior chemical warfare methods against other colonies and queens.
Ants fight for territory, resources, food, or to protect their queen. They invade with the intention of taking over and taking prisoners of war. Although they are tiny, ants can lift 20 times their weight, which is impressive. Ants may be good fighters, but they are prey to some larger animals and insects such as dragonflies, birds, swifts, seagulls, and warblers.
Ants are fascinating insects, mimicking human behaviors and traditions in many ways, including having social hierarchies, reproduction values, and war tactics. So next time you see an ant, take a closer look. And if there comes a time that you want to kick them out of your house, you’ll have some insider knowledge.