Can queenless worker ants rear a new queen from eggs?

I found some ants in my back yard that had some eggs. So I gathered a pile of workers and eggs. I couldn't find a queen though. I've heard that when you catch eggs, and no queen, the workers will raise some of the eggs into queens. I was wondering if that was true, and what do I need to do to ensure a queen is hatched.
Thanks, "CatPlip"

Dear Cat:

A point which needs to be clarified regarding your interesting question is, 'What do you mean by eggs?' To most people, anything pale-colored that the ants carry around when their nest is disturbed is their "eggs". But ants are like butterflies, in that they develop from very tiny, true eggs into legless and helpless but voracious grubs (larvae). The larvae grow to many times the size of the original egg on the protein-rich diet provided to them by the adult ants. When full grown, the larvae cease to feed, and develop into pupae, the equivalent of the butterfly chrysalis. In some ants, the pupae are enclosed in a cocoon, but in most, the pupae are naked, as in this excellent image of ant development from the myrmecos website. Lastly, the pupae develop into adult ants, whether queen, worker, soldier or male.

Now to your question: There is still much we do not know about what determines whether a particular ant egg develops into a queen or worker. It is known that in some species, workers lacking a queen can raise eggs or very small larvae into winged queens. The problem then is that these queens are not mated, so they can only lay unfertilized eggs. There is the further complication that the winged, virgin queens may not even mate, even if males are present, and thus will not lay eggs at all, until they have completed the full cycle of leaving the parent nest for a mating flight, breaking off their wings, and establishing a small nest of their own. So in essence, the answer to your question is that you cannot count on the queenless workers and brood you have collected to raise a new queen. This is why those who keep captive ants prefer to either collect whole colonies with queen or even better, to collect young, newly mated queens that will rear their own first workers in captivity, if properly cared for. These seem to adjust better to captive conditions than do mature colonies

James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team

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