How do ants reproduce?

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December 06, 2013 10:01PM

Ants are insects that go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. However, in most ant species, only the queen ant lays eggs. She stays in the nest -- the wingless worker ants you see are all sterile females. The winged ants you see in spring or fall are the fertile females and males. The queen-to-be mates with a male ant, then goes off to found a new nest. The male dies soon after mating.

The queen only mates once in her lifetime and may mate with several males -- the male sperm are stored live in her system for years in a special organ. The queen can control whether a sperm is released to enter the egg of not. Oddly, ants, wasps and bees are among the few animals whose UNFERTILIZED eggs hatch --- into males! Fertilized eggs hatch into sterile female workers or virgin queens.

She lays the first few eggs and cares for the larvae herself, but after these emerge as adults, they take over and she lays eggs for the rest of her life. The worker ants collect the eggs and care for the larvae and the pupae. (The pupa is the cocoon stage -- the thing that looks like a grain of puffed rice that you sometimes see if you dig up an anthill.)

The average worker ant lives only 2-3 weeks, but since new ones are being produced all the time, the colony sustains itself quite well.
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