The Lifestyle and Life Cycle of Ants
Unless you are living in Antarctica, you would have crossed paths with small, tiny insects called ants, innumerable times in your life. Often seen in groups and moving in organized rows, these insects surprise us with their discipline.
Many thoughts come to our mind when thinking about ants. What are the ant life cycle stages? Where do ants live? What do ants eat? How long do ants live for? In this article, we brush up on all the interesting habits of ants and the overall lives of ants from start to finish.
Where Do Ants Live?
Ants are regarded as social insects that live in structured nest communities. Within these communities, they live with fellow ants: male and female workers and one Queen who is the head of a particular colony.
Almost every habitat on the planet Earth is favorable for ants to survive. They are found throughout the world except for the icy areas like the Arctic or Antarctica. Ants become inactive during the winter season in colder areas, but continue to live and thrive at their normal speed when in warmer regions.
The location where ants nest varies with species. Some species nest underground, in trees, inside acorns, or small hideouts. Wood structures, plants, or outdoor mounds are the desired places for ants to nest and live. One factor that is essential for ants to nest is that the place should be sheltered. Ants use soil and plant matter to build their nests.
Unlike other invertebrates, adult ants can survive in extremely dry conditions but young ants or ant eggs, require humid surroundings to survive.
What Do Ants Eat?
Even though ants are small, they require food, like all living organisms, and consume a lot of it. Worker ants spend the whole day dragging food back to their nest to feed the Queen, larvae, and alates living there.
The key question is, what exactly do they eat? Depends on their eating and food searching habit, it will determine what they eat. Some ants are hunters; most are foragers or a combination of both. Few ant species feed themselves via herding or farming.
Leafcutter ants are usually found in warmer conditions and feed on the fungus they grow. These ants cut the leaf and take them to their underground nests. After the fungus grows on these leaves, they then harvest them and eat them.
Army ants and driver ants as the name refers are tough, big, aggressive ants having sharp jaws. They assemble in large groups of thousands and roam together in jungles and tropical habitats.
Together they prey on other animals and eat them. They even eat animals larger than them such as frogs and lizards, which they are capable of catching.
Some types of ants feed by farming and herding aphids. Aphids are small pests which feed on plant nectar and drink juices from plant stems, leaves, and roots. In this mutualistic relationship, ants protect and nurture the aphids on the plants they feed.
They then take in the honeydew and other sugary juices secreted from their alimentary canals. The ants milk the aphids by stroking them with their antennas and it works as a signal to release sweet nectar to feed the ants.
Some of the farming ant species are very protective of their aphids’ flock and even fight the aphid predators to protect them. During rainstorms, ants take aphids under leaves to protect them & store aphid eggs in their nests during winters.
These ants feed upon grains or seeds. They take the seeds, nuts, and grains into their nests and eat them to get the desired nutrients for survival. It is easy to farm and keep such ants species as the food is easily available and is cost-effective too.
Most of the ant species including those which we regularly found in our homes and outdoors are omnivores. There are three main nutrients that they survive on are carbohydrates, protein, and water.
Ants take in carbohydrates to derive the necessary energy they need to live and function properly. Any food source containing carbohydrates is sufficient for ants to take in and thrive on it.
This could be a flower or fruit nectar, honey, sugar water, or any other food containing carbohydrates. Dairying ants is an example who feed upon aphids just because of their excretion rich in carbohydrates.
Ant keepers often nourish their workers with fruits like bananas, strawberries, etc. The first meal they give the queen is something enriched in the right amount of carbohydrates and sweet and sugary.
For repairing and replacing the body tissue and for growth, ants eat insects as this provides sufficient nutrients that their body is in need of. Caterpillars, cockroaches, spiders, and crickets are some common insects which ants eat to survive. On the other hand, granivore ants get their daily protein from seeds and nuts.
Everyday ant colonies require several insects to feed their workers and will not shy away from killing small insects or animals to fulfill their daily protein intake.
An example would be the army ant. Ant keepers and farmers should stay away from feeding live animals or insects to their ants as it can be dangerous and can hurt workers.
Naturally like all living beings, ants too require water to live. They drink water from raindrops, dew, puddles, or draw it from their food source.
Ants can survive without protein and carbohydrates for weeks, but can not live without water, therefore for ant keepers, it is essential to keep ant farms hydrated.
Life Cycle of Ants
Ants, from the beginning as an egg to an adult, undergo several complex developmental changes. Four stages of ant metamorphosis are:
Do Ants Lay Eggs?
The ant life cycle begins when the Queen Ant lays eggs. Among the laid eggs, any unfertilized eggs will turn into male ants, whereas any fertilized eggs will become female ants.
The baby ant hatches out from the egg; it’s a worm-shaped larva which has a soft body, small head and lacks eyes and legs. Initially, the queen feeds larvae, later on, worker ants take up the duty to feed them, as ant larvae continuously eat. Larvae grow quickly in size, and whether they will be worker ants or the queen ant, it depends on the food the adult ants are feeding them.
Larva molts several times in the larval stage, and when it is big enough, it transforms into an ant pupa. In some species, the larva spins a small cocoon around itself and metamorphoses into a pupa, while most remain uncovered.
Pupa looks more like adult ants, but the difference is that unlike adult ants, antennae and wings of pupa are folded against their bodies. The pupal stage is the resting stage where the pupa does not eat or move, and they transform into an adult ant.
Finally, after completing the pupal stage, pupa transforms into an adult. Adult ants emerge from the cocoon and start working for the nest.
These are full-grown ants belonging to either the queen, female workers, or the castes, male workers. Adult ants have a hard exoskeleton whose purpose is to prevent adult ants from getting bigger.
It takes from several weeks to months for an ant to complete its life cycle, with species, favorable climate, and the environment being the deciding factors.
Average Life Span of Ants
The lifespan of an ant depends on their caste and gender. Queen ants live longer than any other caste and can live for up to 30 years in favorable conditions.
Male ants have no purpose other than mating with the queen and that lasts for 10 to 14 days. Male ants thus live for only a couple of weeks and die as soon as they mate.
Female worker ants can live up to 3 years, but usually, they survive for a few months and then die.
Need for Ant Control?
Ants are fascinating creatures and thanks to research; we’re lucky to know about the different types of ant behavior. If you have an ant infestation problem, contact a local exterminator near you to be pest-free.***