A queen ant (formally known as a
Queen ants are the only members of a colony to lay eggs. After mating, they're able to produce thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs during their lifetime.
Not every colony of ants has a queen.
Ants go through four stages of development:
When conditions are hot and humid after rain and there is minimal wind, masses of winged sexually reproducing ants or "flying ants" will leave their parent nest and take flight. The mating flights occur simultaneously in all ant nests of the particular species. The female "queen" ants will fly a long distance, during which they will mate with at least one winged male from another nest. He transfers sperm to the seminal receptacle of the queen and then dies. Once mated, the "queen" will attempt to find a suitable area to start a colony and, once found, will detach her wings.
An established colony
Once a colony is established, the worker ants meet the queen's needs such as giving her food and disposing of her waste. Because ant social structure is very complex and individual ants are relatively simple, an ant colony can be thought of as a single organism, and the individual ants as cells or limbs of the organism, as the individuals can rarely survive on their own. In a colony, some ants may be unrelated to the queen(s), such as when a brood is captured in a raid and raised as the colony's own.
Once the colony has established itself, the queen ant will lay eggs continuously. Among species that reproduce sexually, the queen selectively uses the sperm cells retained from the nuptial flight, laying fertilized or unfertilized eggs depending upon the cyclic needs of the colony; the sex of each individual ant is determined by whether or not the egg is fertilized. The fertilized eggs become female worker ants and unfertilized eggs develop as males; if the fertilized eggs and pupae are well-nurtured, they potentially become queens.
This system of sex determination, haplodiploidy, is generally true for all Hymenoptera – ants, bees, and wasps. However, a few ant species do not reproduce sexually and members of these clonal colonies are all female.
The patterns of expression of genes involved in repair of DNA damage or protein damage were compared between age-matched queens and workers of the ant Lasius niger. The expression of these genes increased with age, and at age two months this increase, in both the legs and brain, was significantly greater in queens than in workers. This difference in repair gene expression between queens and workers suggests that the greater longevity of L. niger queens is due, in part, to increased investment in DNA and protein repair.
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