LEARN ABOUT THE ANT LIFE CYCLE
Without getting too technical we need to know that, as far as life history goes, insects come in two types. Those that produce larvae as young and those that produce nymphs as young. Your ants are of the type that produce larvae. Ok, if you really want to know, these are the Holometabolous insects. The other type, such as grasshoppers and cockroaches are called Hemimetabolous insects. You won’t need to know any of this to enjoy your ant farm!
The life cycle of the ants nest
There are many thousands of species of ant and some of them have life cycles rather different from the one described here. But this one is one that is typical of the great majority. We have deliberately kept it simple, but there are many mechanisms operating within the nest that control just how and when different events occur. We’ll gloss over these for now. Because it’s a cycle, we can start anywhere in the loop, so let’s start with a newly-mated queen. She has recently left her nest, on the wing, along with many other would-be queens and males. She has mated with one or more males during her flight and now searches out a suitable nest site. Depending on what species she is it could vary, from open sandy areas to soil or trees in dense woodland.
She then installs herself in a sealed chamber and lays a small batch of eggs. These soon hatch into larvae and the queen looks after them and feeds them on small unfertilised eggs that she lays especially for the purpose. The larvae then pupate, and ultimately hatch as the first cohort of workers. They soon leave the nest and start finding food to bring back to the nest for themselves and the queen.
The queen continues to lay eggs but now the responsibility for caring for them lies with the workers. They make sure the eggs, larvae and pupae are well ventilated, cleaned and fed. From now on, the queen’s sole job is to lay eggs. Most of the time, all of these eggs develop into workers. The workers attend to her every need and she never leaves the nest again. The queen is the only ant in the nest that is capable of laying eggs, all the workers are sterile.
Depending on the size of the nest, the time of year, and the temperature among other things, the queen will now begin to lay a different type of egg. These eggs will develop into new queens and males. Once they have developed, they will wait in the nest until the right combination of temperature, wind and also pheromones from other nearby nests takes place. Then these new queens and males will leave their nest and begin the cycle that we started with.
Some nests can be very long lived, maybe ten years or more, and are always dependent on an individual queen. Typically the workers live between 45 and 60 days so the ants in your ant farm will ultimately have to be replenished because ant farms have no queen.