Ant queens have a tough and cruel job!

in #nature7 years ago

There are different ways how a new ant colony is founded.
But no matter how they do it, they start with the "virgin flight" how it is called in germany.

During the virgin flight the unfertilized queen flys together with a male ant for mating. After that they will never mate again, they will store the sperm for their entire life!
This is really beautiful, since they do kind of a meeting. All future queens and all males of the whole colony are meeting at the surface and all fly together and find a mate. But.. it is also cruel! The queens and males who can't fly or find partner will get killed and eaten. They are not usefull for the species anymore. Even if they would fly away, they have no chance of living on their own.
And the ones who succeed will have a tough time of founding their own colony.

Lasius niger (a species which is seen very often in germany)

The queen

The male

The Meeting

Of course there are also workers who are resposible fore proection.

The claustrale and semiclaustrale founding

After their flight they will look for a place to stay. They will dig a small chamber and won't leave it until the larvae will hatch. And this could last 7 month's. The queen lives 7 month's without food and still has to feed the larvae! Therefore they regress their wings and also eat some of their own eggs. Those eggs are called "trophic eggs" they are meant to be eaten and can't be hatched. Some species also use this technic to conserve food!
Due to this fact this founding type can just be practiced by ant species with a big polymorphism, where the queen is way bigger than the workers. Lasius niger is using this type too.

The semiclaustrale founding type is just like the claustrale type. With the difference that the queen will leave the chamber and search for food. Because this is dangerous the claustrale type has evolved.

The temporary social parasitism founding

In this case the new queen searches for a already existing colony. In most situations they will take a closely related species. And their goal is to kill the queen and conquer the colony!
First she has to be accepted in the colony, otherwise she will get killed herself. Therefore she kills a worker to take on her pheromones. Due to the fast that ants mostly communicate with pheromones they will think she is from their colony and let her be. Of course most queens will get spotted and killed. (yes every worker is female, the only males in a colony are the ones to fertilize the queen.)
If she gets to the queen she will try to kill her with a bite in the throat. If she succeeds and was not killed herself by the original queen, she will just pretend to be their queen and lay eggs. Some of the parasite queens even let the workers to the dirty work. They kill their own queen because they prefer the new one.
The workers don't even recognize that they are hatching strange eggs. Even if they are already hatched, the workers won't recognize that those are way different ants. Once the new ants are in the majority, they will kill all remaining original ants and feed them to the larvae. After that noone can see that this nest was conquered!

Queen killing a worker to take on her pheromones

The permanent social parasitism founding type is similiar. But they don't kill the queen. So there are 2 species in one colony working together like there was nothing going on.
There are also some cases where they kill the queen but can't lay eggs themself. So they are living their whole life with the original workers during the colony slowly dies.

Some parasite ant species can't live on their own. They can't eat or dig without help of another species. This ants hold slaves!
They steal larvae and enslave them if they are hatched.

Polygyn ants

But there are also polygyn ant species. That means they have more than one queen. This happens when new queen return to their home colony, where acutally already are some more queens. If the colony gets big enough, they will split the whole colony and found another nest just one meter away.

That's it so far for the founding of a colony. If you liked it, you can find my first ant article here:

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That's intense dude..Mother Nature is very cruel...

She is! :D

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I will post more of it :)

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@resorus: most undervalued article ever! Thanks for sharing!

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