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The Social Structure of an Ant Colony


Nearly every homeowner has had to deal with ants at some point or another. Ants are social insects, meaning that they live in groups, and these social structures can be quite complex, a fact that is reflected in the colony itself.

The Structure

An ant colony is separated into different castes, which are genetically determined. You have workers, reproductives and, in some species, soldiers. The workers deal with the day to day activities of the colony. They forage for food, care for the young, build tunnels, clean up and do pretty much anything else that involves labor. The reproductives can be split into two categories: the swarmers or alates, and the queen. We all know about the queen. It is tasked with the reproduction of the colony and the birthing of new members. The swarmers are winged male and female ants that fly out of a mature colony in order to start their own nest. These are the flying ants that you may come across during certain times of the year. Finally, the soldiers are tasked with the protection of the colony.


Ants coordinate with each other using pheromones. The queen itself emits pheromones which let the ants know where the queen is located. Then the workers will use pheromones whenever they perform certain tasks. For example, an ant goes out foraging and it finds a new food source. As it returns to the colony, it will leave a pheromone trail that will indicate the presence of that food source. Other workers will pick up on this trail, follow it, and as they return, reinforce the trail, drawing in more and more workers until the food source is depleted. A similar mechanism is involved in tunnelling and pretty much any coordinated activity in the colony.

The Death of the Queen

Successfully eliminating a termite colony requires the killing of the queen. You can kill numerous worker ants, but the colony will still be able to recover as long as there is a queen inside it. This is why successful control often relies on poisoned baits, which are taken back into the colony, where they are shared around, eventually reaching the queen and poisoning it. If you would like to know more about ant control methods, or if you have an ant infestation that you need to get rid of, contact us today.