Introducing her royal highness. Supreme mother. Old, wise, and matronly, every ant colony has at least one “queen,” sometimes hundreds. The queen is usually recognizable by her size; she is much bigger than male and worker ants. Additionally, she is winged until she lays her eggs at which time either she or worker ants detach them. The four wings of the queen ant serve as a transportation mechanism as the queen seeks out potential mates. The coloration, markings, anatomy, and exact size depend on the species, but she usually stands out in her colony.
Where does the Queen ant live, and what does she eat?
The range and habitat of a queen ant are varied according to species, but all queen ants will make their own nest once fertilization occurs. Some queen ants care for their young while others leave the brooding up to worker ants. Depending on the species, the queen ant will form some kind of nest and make tunnels and cells in which to brood her young.
In general, queen ants eat whatever the rest of the colony eats. But while the queen ant is laying eggs and colonies are being established, the worker ants give her food and dispose of her waste. Ant diets typically consist of sweets, proteins, fats, honeydew produced by other insects, and living or dead insects themselves.
How long will the typical Queen ant live?
As a colony thrives and workers tend to a new brood of ants, the larvae that receive preferential treatment (i.e. better nourishment) will develop into reproductive females. Once these females have hatched they will “swarm” in search of a mate. Once fertilized, the female leaves her old colony, builds a new nest elsewhere, and lays her eggs. Life cycles and life spans vary slightly from species to species, but the queen ant has been known to live as long as 20 years in the wild, continually producing new broods and raising new colonies. The queen ant is the true matron of the colony; she is usually the mother of all individuals in a single colony. Rather “queen like,” isn’t it?
Queen Ants and Humans
Queen ants will rarely come in contact with humans, unless you happen to be caught in the middle of “swarming” season. Her sole purpose is to multiply and replenish her colony so that is where she spends almost her entire life. Certain species of ants are equipped with a stinger and defense mechanisms, and if the queen ant feels her brood is threatened she may retaliate with a bite or sting.
How to Get Rid of Queen Ants
It is not necessarily true that if the queen ant of a colony is taken out the rest of the colony will perish. After she lays eggs, the worker ants take over from there, pupating and caring for the young. Many colonies will just go on with business as usual. That said, once a colony loses its queen ant it will most likely die out by the end of the year unless a new queen takes over, which is common in some species. If swarms of ants have been seen flying about near your home, it is likely there is at least one colony of ants nearby. A professional will locate any nests and set to work identifying species, then work to eradicate the nests.
“Queen Ant” is not a specific species of ant, rather the critical role in the caste system of any ant colony. Identification of this motherly old insect requires identification of the workers in the colony, but you can count on her being much bigger than other ants in the colony. It is not a bad idea to begin ant eradication with the queen ant, but it won’t necessarily guarantee that the entire colony dies out. The role of queen in an ant colony is truly remarkable, with some queens living longer than your pet dog, continually laying and raising egg larvae.