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Ant mating


Dear AntAsk Team,
Honey bee queens mate something like twenty times over a few days. That sperm then lasts for say 3 or 4 years. In the long lived queen ants how many times do the queens mate? And does that mating period last for their twenty odd year lifespan?

- Geoff

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Figure 1. Copulating pair of Dorymyrmex bureni. The male is the small individual attached at the end of the large queen. Note that both individuals have wings. The queen of this species will probably only mate once.

dorylusnigricansq_casent0172663_p_1_high.jpg
Figure 2. Queen of Dorylus nigricans molestus. The highly specialized queens of Dorylus are wingless and must mate with multiple males before founding a colony, which they do by taking a proportion of the standing worker population with them.

dorylusnigricansm_casent0172663_p_1_high.jpg
Figure 3. Male Dorylus nigricans molestus. Males of Dorylus are massive and distinctive animals which probably only mate once in their life, unlike the queens, and which have bizarrely modified genitalia.

cardiocondyla obscurior males fighting_sylvia cremer photo.jpg
Figure 4. Male Cardiocondyla obscurior engaged in mortal combat to mate with their sisters inside the nest. Photo by Sylvia Cremer.


Dear Geoff,

This is a great question which has several facets to it. In general, queen ants mate only during a very short period of time, such as a few hours during a nuptial (mating) flight (Fig 1.) or for a few seconds to several hours by calling males to her with chemical pheromones or with other signals (Figs. 2, 3). Regardless of how the queen is able to obtain sperm, she is stuck with this for the duration of her life. To the best of our knowledge, queen ants never re-mate, even in lineages which have extraordinarily long life-spans. There are several intriguing aspects to the reproductive biology of ants, but one which relates to your question is the number of males a queen mates with. In that single short period of time in which a queen will mate, she may mate with one or up to a dozen males. Usually queens will mate with one or a few males, but in some cases queens seem to never mate more than once, such as in the Carpenter ants (Camponotus) which have been studied and in ponerine army ants (Simopelta). In other lineages queens will always mate with several males. These lineages usually have massive colonies with complex social organization. Examples are the leaf cutter ants in the genus Atta, and in the New and Old World army ants Eciton and Dorylus (Figs. 2, 3), respectively. Because matings occur only once in a queen's and male's lifetime males only produce enough sperm for that single event. A remarkable exception to this is the genus Cardiocondyla (Fig. 4), where some males fly from the nest to mate and die, and other, wingless males remain in the nest and copulate with their sisters after killing their brothers. These wingless and incestuous males are able to continuously produce sperm so that they may monopolize the virgin queens eclosing from their pupal cocoons. Despite the detail I've provided in this email, much remains to be learned about the reproductive biology of ants---from both the queen's and the male's perspective.

All the best,
-Brendon Boudinot & the AntAsk Team


How difficult, if possible, is it to transfer an ant colony from a small easy maintenance starter farm to a much larger farm. Also how big would my farm have to be to have a full colony of pavement without 'controlling' population size? I can build one as big as I need. And what are the chances that my pavement ant colony will have more than one queen producing, I read that they will sometimes have more than one producing queen per colony. I think it would be very interesting to watch a multi queen colony.

Thank you so much,
Justin

Dear Justin,

It should not be too difficult to transfer your colony to a new farm, though you will probably lost some individuals in the process. Take a look at our previous post here.

I doubt that there will be any need to "control" the population size. The colony will grow until it is mature or runs out of resources so keep it well fed and it should be fine. Pavement ant colonies can grow to tens of thousands of workers so if you want your colony to reach its maximum possible size, you should probably make the farm rather large. Be sure to take a look at this previous post for tips on building a habitat.

Steiner et al. (2003) found multiple queens in five of 35 pavement ant colonies collected, so it is certainly possible that your colony contains multiple queens. Although you may need to do some more whole colony collecting if you are determined to find this type of colony.

Good luck with the farm!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

References:
Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC, Buschinger A. 2003. First record of unicolonial polygyny in Tetramorium cf. caespitum (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 50: 98-99.


How do I get my ant farm to produce more queens and how do I collect them?

Dear Anthony,

This can be a very difficult goal to accomplish. Ant colonies need to be very well established before they will begin producing reproductives. Depending on the species, this can take up to a few years. Also, if your ant farm doesn't have its own queen, it can't possibly produce new ants because, with a few exceptions, worker ants cannot produce fertile eggs.

Allowing your colony to grow and providing it with abundant resources is the best way to ensure that it will attain maturity and will eventually be able to produce new queens.

Good luck!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

I dug up a pogo ants nest and I have about 10 queen and 10 kings but none of them are fertilized how do I get them to mate?

Javaris

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Dear Jarvis,

We are glad to hear you are interested in ants! Unfortunately it is very difficult (and impossible for many species) to get ants to mate in captivity. Most ant species need to go on a mating flight, where unmated queens and males (these are often called "sexuals") leave their nests to reproduce based on environmental queues. During these mating flights, the sexuals from all the nearby nests will congregate in a single location to find mates. Below is an image taken by Alex Wild showing one of these mating swarms.

Mating swarm.jpg

Ant mating swarm - Photo by Alex Wild (www.alexanderwild.com/)

For more tips on keeping ants and getting mated queens for your ant farm, see the following three posts here, here, and here.

Best of luck!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hello,

I have a general question about ant colony size:

Having secured their resources, why does an ant community choose expansion in size, structure and function? I guess that at a certain limit of population size things will start to get more difficult with every increase in contrast with a small population where more workers will make life easier and growth is a healthy thing.

Provided that resources are endless will an ant colony continue to grow or is there a target to be achieved? Will ants limit their population if food is scarce for example?

Grateful for your help,
Ibrahim


Hello Ibrahim!

The size of an ant colony has to do both with the ant species and the availability of resources. With that said, it seems to be genetically determined how big an ant colony can get. Many ant colonies have only one egg-laying queen, while others have several and can reach larger colony sizes. Some species only reach colony sizes of a few hundred workers, whereas others can reach colony sizes of over a million, or several millions (for example leaf cutter ants). On the other hand, an entire ant colony of the genus Temnothorax can nest in a single acorn. However, when resources are scarce, an ant colony might not be able to expand to its full potential size.

Hope this helps,
Arista Tischner & the AntAsk Team

While hiking in a remote and Primitive forest in Lassen County of northern California I came across one very large ant.

All of the ants I had seen earlier that day were large and black. They were approximately 1/2 inch long and very stout. I hiked several more miles into a truly primitive and rustic area and found a black ant that was at least one inch long. I thought it must be some sort of queen but it was all alone. Any idea what it could be be. Could it be a carpenter ant? The trail is not far from the Pacific Rim trail which starts in San Diego and maybe this ant hitched a ride. I have looked everywhere and it seems that most ants in north America are under 1/2 inch.

I wish I had taken the poor fellow home. If the ant is unique then I will go back this summer and try and locate him and bring him back for research. If there is one, there is likely more ants.

Your advise is greatly appreciated,

Sincerely,
Matt

*****
Matt,

Thank you for contacting AntBlog.

Unfortunately without a photograph it is difficult to say what ant species you observed, but from your description it is not out of the realm of possibilities that you found a queen of the larger ants (likely carpenter ants from the genus Camponotus) you saw earlier on your walk. Queens are often larger than workers and new founding queens can be exploring the local environment to find a suitable new home to start a colony.

You can see a list and photographs of the ants of California here.

Best regards,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk,

My friend found this queen near his place and asked me about her genus and species. I guess it is a Paratrechina longicornis queen because he described her size equal to an Atta sexdens queen, and she has little workers by now.

Thank you

Felipe Lei - Mirmecolismo Brasil

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Hi Felipe,

This queen is in fact Solenopsis saevissima, ID courtesy of Dr. James Trager. Coloration within this fire ant species is highly variable, ranging from lighter red to dark brown variations that obey a distinctively north-south clinal distribution across eastern South America. In Dr. Trager's own words, this particular specimen "is one of those really dark S. saevissima from SE Brazil." While the AntWeb page for this species does not have any images (the featured S. macdonaghi belongs to the same subcomplex, however), you can refer to this page on Paraguayan myrmicines to view some photographs of both queen and worker ants of this species for comparison. And just a quick note on relative queen size: P. longicornis queens rarely exceed 5mm, while the much larger Atta queens typically measure upwards of 20mm. Solenopsis queens in the Geminata group (which includes S. saevissima) generally range from 6-9mm.

Thanks for your interest!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,

Thanks for your wonderful website and blog! The worker harvester ants that are usually sold for small home ant farms only live perhaps a few months, often only a few weeks! What species of ant would you recommed if I wanted to have worker ants that easily live perhaps a year or longer?

thanks,
keith
*****
Dear Keith,

We are glad to hear you are interested in keeping live ants! We are often asked about which ants to keep in ant farms, how to make your own ant farm, and how to find ants that live longer than the ones sent through the mail.

They only way to insure your ants will live long is to have a colony with a queen. It is illegal to mail queens, which is why most companies that provide live ants to not offer this service. You can also read more about this here. The best way around this is to collect your own colony of ants from nearby.

We have several previous posts that will help with this:

You can read more about collecting your own ant colony on these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/10/how-to-find-an-ant-queen-austin-arizona.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/07/questions-on-ant-farm-steve-winnipeg-manitoba-canada.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/how-do-you-collect-an-entire-ant-colony-evan-philadelphia-pa-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

For tips and instructions to make your own ant farm see these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/04/how-to-make-an-ant-farm-john-leeds-uk-moving-to-us-soon.html

Best of luck and enjoy the ants!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi,
I want to make an ant farm from a small aquarium I bought, but I need an ant queen. I don't want to dig up an existing colony. Would having a queen overpopulate the colony? How would I find a queen after its mating flight? I live in Arizona and it's October. I've heard that you need to look for a small hole with a small pile of dirt by it. I haven't seen any. Will ants make a larvae turn into a queen if there is no queen present like bees do? What time is mating season for ants in Arizona? Should I wait until mating season starts? -Austin


Hi Austin!

Thanks for contacting us! Digging up a colony to find the queen can sometimes be very hard. Often, the queen is hidden very deep in the soil and you might not find her. It might be easier to wait until next season for a newly mated queen.

James Trager has shared his expertise on the times when to expect newly mated queens of some ant species that are encountered in Arizona and are fun to keep in a formicarium. Here is his advice:

"Pogonomyrmex and Myrmecocystus flights are tied to rains, either monsoon, or spring, depending on the species.

Higher altitude, forest species of Camponotus fly on the first really warm days of spring, typically in April, May. Lower altitude species of oak-conifer woodlands, mesquite scrubland and true desert mostly fly with the first monsoon rains.

Finally, Formica species fly in July, especially early in the month, except the really high altitude ones, which may wait till August."

Here you can find more information on the ants of Arizona.

A queen would not overpopulate a colony. It is usually a good idea to have a queen, so that your ant colony lives past two month. The workers often die after this short time period and a queen would always supply new workers. Some of the larvae will turn into new queens, but they need to mate before they can lay fertilized eggs. It is very hard and often impossible to have ants mate in captivity. So it is best to find a freshly mated queen. You should keep your eyes open for several winged ant queens and keep one individual each in a small container. If one starts laying eggs, you can carefully transfer her to the bigger aquarium.

Here , here , and here are some other posts that might be helpful for you.

Good luck with your ant farm!

James Trager, Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hi!

I'm writing from Brazil to as what's the matter with my queen ant. She is an Odontomachus, I'm not sure of what specie, and I have had her for 2 months. She has laid several times but none of the eggs hatched; she keep growing a ball of eggs but no larvae appeared. I gave her some bugs and honey and she has eaten, so I believe she's well-fed. Is this normal? Will the eggs hatch? Is there some problem?

Thank you in advance,

Best regards,
Isabel

Hi Isabel,

I'm sorry to hear that your Odontomachus queen is not doing so well. Odontomachus are amazing ants and it would be a lot of fun to have a colony of them. It is a good sign that your queen has laid eggs but that does not necessarily mean that they will grow into adult ants. As discussed here, most queens are too weak to start new colonies. I would suggest continuing to feed your queen and be sure to provide her with a moist and protected habitat (you can check out some of these posts on keeping ants). In the end, it may require collecting a lot of queens before you are able to raise a successful colony.

Good luck!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

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