Ant colonies are biologically programmed to have strict roles for each member of their colony. With upwards of 100,000 in a single nest, that structure is vital to their survival. This complex system divides nests into three different roles, queen, breeders, workers. Queen ants are born typically when a colony is reaching max population and are born with wings as when they are mature, a queen will fly off to start their colony.
After breeding, they shed their wings and begin digging for their new nest. Breeders are all males and are also all born with wings. Male ant’s only purpose is when they are mature. They will fly off to breed with new queen ants. Once they have finished that breeding cycle, ant males will die off. Worker ants are all females, separated into soldiers, excavators, foragers, garbage collectors, and gardeners. Their roles will begin assigned by the size of each ant and the diet they feed on as larvae, the biggest being the soldiers protecting the nest. Medium-sized females being excavators who dig nest chambers, and foragers/garbage collectors who find food. Lastly, the gardeners who care for the eggs and young.
But what happens to the colony if it loses its queen?
When the queen dies, the colony can no longer reproduce, leaving the colony doomed and on a clock before it dies off completely. A queen ant by size is the most sizable member of an ant colony, having just flown away from her birth nest, and is ready to start her own. She has already gone through breeding with a male, and he will soon die off with all the other males who have already bred. Now begins the journey of the birth of her colony. She begins this process by sealing herself in her first chamber to lay a few worker eggs. She will be caring for these eggs herself, meaning the count won’t be high. Once these workers are ready to go, it is time for her to start her true purpose, lay as many eggs as possible.
There are two different ways that queens will operate when a colony is in the early stages and how it continues. First, a single queen colony, where once the queen dies, the colony has no other means to produce offspring. Second, some species will start digging a nest with multiple queens, and once workers mature, they will kill the queens until there is one left. However, this sometimes results in the colony killing all of the queens. The queen ants in such colonies often will prepare for the coming revolt by laying fewer eggs to delay the attack due to overpopulation. The goal with workers killing off queens is; to now keep the colony around a specific number. Sometimes the workers get overzealous and wind up killing all of the queens leaving the colony to die.
Once the queen dies, the dominoes will fall one after another, all leading to the end of the colony. Ants rely on larvae to digest solid foods as ants are physically unable to digest solids due to their thin waist before their stomach. With the queen being the only one capable of reproducing once she dies, the first domino has fallen. Second, now the queen is dead, the current larvae will mature, and there will be no replacement. Since there are no larvae, solid foods are no longer able to be digested. Now that there are no more larvae, foragers and gardeners’ roles will diminish. Once these roles become less important, the more a colony becomes disorganized, leading to the colony dying off. The population inside the nest plays a role in how long it will take before a colony dies off. If big enough, it could take up to a year for this process to complete.
Ants are one of the worst pests invading homes. If they can get food from your home, they will leave pheromone trails from where they got that food back to their colony for everyone in the nest to keep going back. Keeping your food sealed and counters wiped free of those invisible pheromone trails are good ways to help keep ants away. Some will attach their ant problem straight from the source. A combination of hot water and dish soap poured down into an ant nest should do the trick of killing some of the population and could potentially eliminate the queen wiping out the colony for good.