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How Do Ants Reproduce? Ant Mating & Reproduction Facts

Ants have a haplodiploid sex-determination system in which females are diploid and develop from fertilized eggs (sexually) while males are haploid and develop from unfertilized eggs (arrhenotokous parthenogenesis). However, a few ant species may generate female progeny parthenogenetically.

How Do Ants Reproduce?

Ants go through a complete metamorphosis: 

  1. Ant queens lay eggs
  2. Eggs turn into larvae. The larvae ant that hatches from the egg has no legs, only a soft white body like a worm and a tiny head. 
  3. The queen (in the first generation) and workers feed the larvae. 
  4. The larvae develop into pupae.
  5. The adult ant emerges.

Ant mating is just as fascinating as to how ants reproduce.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants x
5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants

Males die within a few weeks after they mate with young queens. Mating takes place during nuptial flights that take place from late spring through early summer when conditions are right (humid weather). 

During these flights, virgin queens fly high up in the air until males swarm all around them causing a cloud of insects. They pair off, mate midair, and fall back down to earth where each female goes her separate way to start new colonies.

Read more about ant eggs here.

Swarming: The Queen and Males Fly Off

During the mating season, winged male and female ants will leave their nests to engage in swarming. This is how they mate before dying, so only some of these flying ants are destined for new homes where they can start a family. 

Queen ants fly up into trees or tall grasses while attached to a male who has mounted them from behind. They lock together until the male dies, which often results in both being pulled off by gravity as they hit the ground below—without breaking away! 

swarming male ants and queen ants

A Queen Finds Its Mate

A Queen ant must find a male of her species before mating. 

As soon as she leaves the colony from which she was born, she will start looking for males to reproduce to keep life going on.

The first thing you need to know about how ants mate is that it happens during a short period every year called “nuptial flight” or swarming season. 

During this time all eggs laid by queens are taken care of by the queen herself until they mature into adults. In other words, if these eggs don’t hatch, their entire colony will die off as well as their lineage ends forever.

queen ant crawling on leaves

Asexual Reproduction

Ants typically reproduce asexually [1]. The queen ant does not mate with the male ants, rather she produces all of her offspring by parthenogenesis or mitosis. 

Parthenogenesis is how an unfertilized egg develops into an embryo that will grow to be another female ant through duplication of the chromosomes in its nucleus without meiosis taking place.

ant workers taking care of eggs

Mitosis is how cells divide and are created during cell division where each daughter gets one chromosome from each pair after they have split apart. This type of reproduction takes up more energy for the colony as it must provide food for the newly hatched larvae until they pupate/become adult workers who can take care of themselves.

Starting a New Colony

Reproduction begins when a male ant meets with a female ant that’s able to reproduce (most females are unfertile – these are the workers). 

queen ant laying eggs together with ant workers

The male will then proceed to mate with her, leaving behind an aphorism gland that secretes chemicals that suppress other males’ sexual behaviors towards the queen.

Colony Budding

Ants reproduce in different ways depending on their colony type and how many queens there are.

The most common form of reproduction is called “budding”.

Budding is when a queen ant and her devoted workers leave their current nest, travel to a new site, and forms a new colony. The queen will produce offspring, which the workers will then take care of [2].

They will typically only have one queen for this to happen successfully, but it can also occur with multiple queens present within the colony. In either case, they will share duties such as caring for the young, gathering food, and protecting the nest from intruders. 

The only difference between colonies that use budding versus those that don’t is how much work each individual has to do because more ants mean less responsibility per worker.

The Workers Take Care of the Reproducing Queen

As the sole egg layer, how does a queen ant reproduce? She has to mate with male ants. Sometimes there are multiple queens in an anthill (and thus competition for mates). 

Since the queen is the most important of them all, the workers will take care of her. This is their main priority: to keep the queen safe and well-cared for.

Also read: What happens when a queen ant dies?

worker ants with larvae

Multiple Queens Can Exist in a Colony

In some species, ants have multiple queens in a colony. This is how they can spread out from one area and colonize new locations successfully. 

This can happen when there are two or more colonies that merge into one larger group. Usually, it is only temporary. They will usually split up and establish new colonies of their own somewhere else.

multiple queen ants

How Often Do Ants Reproduce?

As in the case of most animals, the rate of reproduction depends very much on the number of resources and food the ants have. 

Read more: Birth Rate & Death Rate of Ants

The more resources ants have access to, the faster they will reproduce. 

Ants that live in colder regions reproduce less than those living in tropical climates because there is not as much food and it takes longer for eggs and larvae to develop into adults.

Ant mating season varies based on ant species but typically occurs once a year during spring or summer months when temperatures are warm enough for egg development.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.