Lazy Luddite Log

3.4.07

(Getting Into) The Ants Pants

I was excited a few evenings back as the very lay entomologist that I am. On warm evenings I sometimes notice winged ants but on this occasion I observed every variation of adult ant within a colony.

In warm conditions the fertile winged ants (both female and male) of a colony will emerge from the nest to embark on a mating flight. For the females it is (hopefully) the start of a life as a fertilised queen ant laying the eggs that will become a new colony. For the males it is - well - what they live and die for. Only some of the males manage to mate with a female and following that they perish (I suppose the exertion is just too much for them).

During the mating flight the whole nest goes wild. All the many sterile (technically female) worker ants clamber about at the entrances to the nest as the winged ants depart. And the particular species of ant I observed the other evening includes the 'soldier ant' variation of worker ant. Among all the many small normal worker ants I saw a few ants with somewhat larger bodies and markedly larger heads. The heads are bigger so as to accommodate much bigger mandibles. Also the heads tend to show a different colour, in this case red heads on black bodies. They look ridiculous.

Then I saw lots of winged ants of the female gender wandering among the workers and preparing to launch. They have the same proportions as a worker but they are something like three times as large (and have wings). If only I could also see some males that would make the experience complete. Then I looked skyward. There was a cloud of winged insects over the nest above me and the females were rising towards it. I then looked back to the ground a metre or so from the nest to see one winged female with two winged males on her. The winged males are a similar size to a worker but differently proportioned. I find the basic form of an ant rather aesthetic but the proportions of the winged males are different - frankly they are ugly and misshapen with tiny heads and humped thorax. One male was mating with the female while the other seemed to be crossing antennae with her. An accidental Hymenoptera Ménage A Trios? How exciting!

So I had seen every variation of adult ant within that colony except for the old queen in the nest. She would presumably be the same size as the other winged females but lack any wings. She would have consumed her own wings after her own mating flight once she had dug in since food would be scarce till her first hatchlings could go get her more. I expect very few of the females are fertilised and then survive a sufficient time to get a new colony happening. If they all succeeded the Earth would have been over-run by THEM long ago.

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4 Comments:

  • Dear Daniel,

    how interesting. What happens to the old colony once the old queen dies? Does she have some kind of succession plan here?

    Julie.

    By Blogger julie, At 05 April, 2007  

  • I think the succession plan is having other nests established by her daughters. The old colony eventually ends but it its time has spawned others. It is very different from the way bees do things: With them the old queen vacates (with much of the existing hive population) to establish a new hive so that the newly born queen finds herself in a ready-made home. I think the ant way makes more sense.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 10 April, 2007  

  • Oh Gawd ... it was a bad horror movie reference *groan*

    By Anonymous Erin, At 28 May, 2007  

  • Horror? I suppose 'Them' was horror but I think of it more as science fiction (from the wonderfully awful era of 1950s American SF).

    The Hive Mind is calling me so I gotta go now...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 01 June, 2007  

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