Ants are social insects, like bees and termites, who live in very organized colonies. Each ant is born into its role for life. When they aren’t causing problems for us, their work ethic is pretty impressive.
The number of ants in a colony is in the thousands, so it’s important for them to be organized and intentional. Ant colonies come in literally all shapes and sizes. Smaller colonies live in natural crevices or openings while larger colonies create vast nests and forage for supplies and food. There are also supercolonies around the world that can contain more than 300 million individual ants. These supercolonies have been identified in Japan, Australia, the United States and southern Europe.
Ants work together to gather food and care for the young, and their behavior is surprisingly coordinated and methodical for such seemingly simple insects. There are only three types of ants that make up the ant colony system and they divide the jobs (rather disproportionately!) among each group:
- Queen. The queen is the founder of the colony and her main role is to lay eggs (amounting to millions in some species). They have wings and fly to find a mate. They tear their wings off before forming a new colony. After mating, the queen starts a new nest (colony) and raises her first worker offspring. This is the only time in her life that the queen does any work other than laying eggs. Queens are typically larger than the workers and live an average of 10-15 years.
- Worker ants are all wingless females, and this sisterhood is responsible for the harmonious operation of the colony. Their tasks range from caring for the queen and the young, foraging, policing conflicts in the colony and waste disposal. Workers will most likely never have their own offspring. Workers live for about a year; they measure up to half an inch long and can be yellow, red, brown, or black in color.
- Male ants (also called drones or reproductives) have only one role—mating with the queen. Drones die as soon as they’ve fulfilled this function (although their sperm live longer) and are rarely encountered outside the colony. Like the queens, they have wings and are generally the same size or larger than workers with small heads and large eyes.
Another unofficial “job” in the ant hierarchy is reserved for the older workers. Called “living silos,” they serve as testers for food toxicity. They regurgitate and distribute food to the rest of the colony, resulting in a diluted food chain that protects the queen and reproductives from poison. This adaptation makes removing infestations with poison baits sometimes challenging.
As in any work setting, some ants may actually work harder than others. Even busy bees aren’t always …well … busy.
Ants, bees and termites can all cause problems when there are too many doing their jobs in the wrong places – like at your home! Get with a professional pest control company for a free inspection and estimate.