How Do Ants Choose a Queen

How Do Ants Choose a Queen?

Ants are some of the most interesting insects in the world. If you know anything about ants, then you’re probably aware that their colonies have hundreds, if not thousands, of workers and only one queen. This might leave you wondering, how exactly do ants choose their queen and what does she do for the colony?

Learning more about the process of choosing a queen ant and her role in the colony will help you better understand these common, fascinating insects.

How Are Queen Ants Chosen?

At one time, it was believed that queen ants were chosen in much the same way as bees, which nurture a common bee with royal jelly so it will grow into a queen. However, scientists now understand that queen ants are born, not made.

The primary motivation of ants is to grow their colony. Once the colony has reached a certain size, the ants will start expanding to new locations, and this is when a queen ant is created. The queen of the current colony will start laying both queen and worker eggs that, when fully grown, will venture out and form new colonies.

While this is the basic method for choosing a queen ant, the process can vary among ant species.

The Role of the Queen Ant

Now that you know how queen ants are chosen, you need to learn about their role within the ant colony. Although not all ant species are based on a queen, those that are will rely on the queen ant for their long-term prospects.

A queen ant’s primary role is to expand the colony. Once she has reached maturity, a queen ant will mate and begin laying eggs. Over their lifespan, which can be as long as 15 years, a queen ant may lay millions of eggs, more than enough to populate their own colony and found others.

>Because queen ants are the foundation of ant colonies, identifying and destroying the queen is a crucial component of ridding your home of an ant infestation. This means you need to understand the identifying characteristics of a queen ant.

The most identifiable characteristic of a queen ant is size. Queen ants are much larger than normal ants, particularly in the thorax. Also, queen ants have wings, though this may not be helpful, as many types of ants are able to fly. Finally, you should consider the behavior of other ants. Worker ants will usually crawl over and around their queen, so if you see a large group of ants whose activity is focused on one ant, you’ve probably found the queen.

Ask a Pest Expert

Ant society is very interesting and complex, particularly when viewed from afar. However, when your home experiences an ant infestation, it can be extremely frustrating. Take care of your ant problems quickly and effectively by working with a pest control expert.

A pest control professional is an invaluable tool when you need to keep insects out of your home. They can find where the ants are infiltrating your property and can even help you identify the colony’s queen.

How do ants reproduce? As the queen is the only one to lay eggs, are the normal working ants male or female and what’s the proportion in their population ?

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Answer Wiki

Ant Reproductive Cycle

Image source: ASU – Ask A Biologist
Mature adults in ant colonies are called the queen and drone. Most all reproductive adult ants generally bear wings and swarm to find a mate. The adults mate and the female leaves looking for a nest spot. Once she has located a suitable site for the nest, she then drops her wings or shrugs them off. Next the female begins digging the nest. Once it is large enough she begins laying eggs. The eggs take a few weeks to hatch. She cares for her first generation, rarely leaving if at all. Once the first generation is reared, they take care of the queen and she never leaves the nest again. Generation after generation is created to serve the queen and the colony as a whole.
Another neat trick of the queen ant is that she can continue to produce young without mating with a male. She generates young through asexual parthenogenesis or better known as cloning. The offspring will be exact replicas of their mother but will remain infertile females unless they are chosen to become reproductive. The process of becoming another queen involves a particular diet in the pupa stage.

Ant Life Cycle
Image source: ASU – Ask A Biologist
Digging deeper into the typical ant life cycle it encompasses four stages. The order goes from egg, larva, pupa, and to adult. The queen can produce two types of eggs. One of the egg types can be a female ant, and can be a male ant. The queen ants lay 200-1,000 one millimeter or less sized eggs in 24 hours. The only unusually large egg produced is a queen egg.
As the eggs are produced workers are taking the eggs to hatching chambers. The eggs then turn into larva the eggs and larvae are sometimes stored together. Both stages need to have appropriate levels of heat or warmth. The larvae look like tiny worms that molt to get larger. The larvae do not have eyes or legs yet so they are fed by the workers. This is where having two stomachs plays a major role for the ants. The worker regurgitates food from its stomach to nourish the young.
Once the ant larvae have reached the desired size, they become pupae. The larvae actually spin a cocoon around itself where it pupates. This is where the major development of the ant takes place. The adult form is the finished result. The pupa shell or cocoon is then exited by the new fully grown adult ant. This life cycle can take anywhere from five to ten weeks. The average life span of an ant is 40-65 days. The queen, however, can live up to 25-28 years.
Image source: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Alex Wild Photography

Another side note is that Ants that maybe you didn’t know but now you will!

Did You Know?

  • Ant’s worst enemies are not humans, but other ants
  • Any ant from a foreign colony or species is treated like an enemy.
  • Ants have been known to fight one another and the victor will return home with the losing colony’s eggs, young, and food.
  • The Slave Maker ant (Polyergus rufescens) is one of the species that raids the nests of other colonies stealing the pupae. The stolen pupae then hatch and work as slaves within the slave maker colony.
  • The Army Ants of South America can have up to 700,000 members in it colony.
  • Army ants actually do not have a set home.
  • They are nomadic having temporary homes and feed on the move.
  • Despite the fact that ants are one of the most annoying pests around, they are actually one of the most interesting little creatures too. Here are some “did you know” facts about ants:
  • In respect to an ant’s size and weight, if a man was to run as fast as an ant he would be as fast as a racehorse.
  • Ants can lift 20 times their body weight.
  • A single ant has 250,000 brain cells. Humans have 10,000 million, and 35,000-40,000 ants have the potential as a colony to match the human brain.
  • Ants can survive 24 hours under water
  • Some ants can swim and float
  • The ant family actually has the most poisonous insect in the world; Maricopa harvester ant has the sting equivalent to 12 honey bees!
  • The biomass or weight of all the ants in the world matches the weight of all of the humans in the world.
  • Asian weaver ant can support over 100 times their body weight
  • The largest colony of ants ever record is by the Argentinian ants, stretching over 3750 miles. This species was one of the first to be known for creating super colonies!
  • The queen ant has the longest life span of any insect in the world, capable of living 30 years.
  • Ants move an estimated 50 tons of dirt and soil per year in one square mile.
  • Ants and humans are the only creatures to ever farm other animals.
  • The wingless ants in the canopies of the tropical rainforest actually are able to glide when they fall from the tree tops. This is so they do not land on the dangerous floor of the jungle, gliding to nearby branches and leaves.
  • Ants actually take naps. In a study it was found that ants have anywhere from 200-250 sleeping episodes as long as 1 minute or so adding up to about 4.8 hours a day.

Ants (Formicidae) – Types of Ants, Facts, Life Cycle, & Identification

How Ant Queens Are Made

How Ant Queens Are Made

How do some ants end up atop the colony’s social hierarchy?

An ant’s parents appear to play a key role in determining whether the insect will develop into a queen or a common worker, according to a new paper in the journal Science. Some male/queen combinations appear to have a royal touch, yielding reproductive queens at much higher levels than other pairings.

The new finding could overturn the long-held belief that there is little genetic influence in ant caste systems.

“It’s a genetic compatability effect,” Tanja Schwander, biological researcher at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and lead author of the paper. “The work shows that queens have to be compatible with a specific male to produce either workers or queens.

How social insect colonies function can give scientists insight into how social behavior evolved. Ant colony members generally have well-defined roles. Sterile workers take care of day-to-day tasks like finding food and rearing young while a queen mates and produces offspring. In the end, though, the workers’ hard work is rewarded when the queen passes their very similar genes on to the next generation. E.O.
Wilson coined the term superorganism for exactly this type of cooperative group.

Biologists had long theorized that environmental factors drove the differentiation of similar ant eggs into the wildly different castes of queens and workers. But there wasn’t much actual data on the subject.

“People just assume that this is environmental,” Schwander said.

But if a specific mother-father genetic combination is required to create a queen, it argues strongly that genetics play a role in determining the social structure of the colony. Schwander’s conclusion matches that of a separate group of researchers publishing in the smaller journal American Naturalist on a different type of ant.

“Caste determination in most social insects likely involves both nature and nurture,” said Chris Smith, a biologist at the University of Illinois and lead author of that paper.

Schwander’s data wasn’t easy to come by, which could explain why previous assumptions about insect colonies have remained untested.
Heading out to the desert near Portal, Arizona, Schwander had to devise a system for capturing males and queens from different colonies in the
Arizona desert.

The species in the study, *Pogonomyrmex rugosus, *has the useful property of streaming out of its colonies in response to summer rainfall, which can be simulated with exactly eight gallons of water applied with the the watering can (above).

When the insects ran out of the colonies, the biologists collected them in tent-like nets and selectively coaxed ants from different colonies into crossbreeding. All told, the study took three summers and months of lab work raising the products of these matings to find the genetic compatibility effect.

“It’s hardcore field work,” Schwander said.

*Images:1. A close-up of Schwander’s ant of choice: **Pogonomyrmex rugosus/Science. 2. Schwander’s team’s ant-catching field set-up/Schwander. *

Citation: “Genetic Compatibility Affects Queen and Worker Determination.”
doi: 10.1126/science.1162590

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal’s Twitter , Google Reader feed, and webpage; Wired Science on Facebook.

Queen Ant Will Sacrifice Colony to Retain Throne

A mighty struggle for ultimate power, with calls of “death to the queen” answered by armies of workers, is routine in some ant colonies. Queen ants are therefore sometimes forced to take care of themselves rather than look out for the good of their colonies, a new study suggests.

Queen ants will do whatever it takes to be the last one standing, even if it means producing fewer young workers to the detriment of the collective.

Ant colonies work somewhat like a superorganism, with the queen ant producing little workers that will meet her needs and their siblings’ needs. But there is always give and take, with individual survival sometimes trumping the good of the group, the research found.

Often, an ant colony has more than one queen. The upside: Multiple queens, each raising broods of worker ants, can produce a larger initial workforce in new colonies, increasing the chance the colony will survive the first year. But queen ants don’t merrily cohabit forever. Soon after the young workers hatch, the little ones begin to slaughter surplus queens until only one remains.

The outcome: death to all but one queen, and sometimes all the queens.

“Workers are much smaller and do minimal damage alone, so it can take several days of sustaining biting/acid spraying before they bring her down – perhaps she just dies of thirst,” Luke Holman, of the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Social Evolution, told LiveScience. “Usually they stop when one is left, but occasionally they are so revved up that they kill all the queens.”

That’s basically evolutionary suicide, he added, since workers are typically sterile and rely on the queen to pass on their genes.

The researchers found queen ants have figured out a clever way of staying on top: They produce fewer workers when other queens are around, because productivity comes at a cost. Producing a larger brood zaps energy from the queen, leaving her with less fighting power to defend against murderous worker ants.

Here’s how the ant battle played out in the lab: Queen ants that had recently mated were housed in plaster nests in a lab, either alone or in groups of two or three queens. Once the eggs were laid and had entered the cocoon stage (just before reaching adulthood), the researchers either snatched some cocoons away or added more to nests.

Queens produce fewer workers when sharing the colony with other queens, especially if the colony already has many developing workers. In the study, compared with the equivalent colonies that had no cocoon transferring, those that had their broods increased were 25 percent less productive, while colonies in which cocoons were taken away were 18 percent more productive.

The worker ants weren’t fooled, however, as they could sniff out a selfish queen, the researchers found. The queens that were most fertile had the stronger chemical cues (and thus stronger odors), which made them more likely to be spared execution by workers.

“Execution of the most selfish ant queens by workers would increase the incentive for queens to be team-players that work hard to help the colony,” Holman said. “This rudimentary ‘legal system’ could have helped ants to evolve their highly advanced societies, just as in humans.”

The study was published Feb. 24 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Secrets of Royalty: Amazing Facts About Queen Ants

It may be hard to believe, but you probably live right next door to royalty. In fact, a member of royalty may be living in your house and you don’t even know it!

Unfortunately, we’re not referring to Prince William and Kate, because that actually would be quite exciting. Instead, we’re talking about ants – namely queen ants and how this one member of an ant colony is the key to success for every ant nest.

As the mother to an entire ant colony, her highness holds a lofty role in her society – but she’s not everything you think she is, either.


Queen ants have two primary roles. Early in their lives, they are programmed to begin creating a new colony. After exiting her birth colony and mating, this young queen will find a new nest site and lay her initial group of eggs. Once those larvae have matured and can take care of her, the queen turns her focus to the next stage of her life: Becoming an egg-laying machine. In fact, some queens can produce millions of eggs in a lifetime.

It should be noted that despite the royal title, the queen ant has no real authority over a colony. She does not direct other ants or make decisions for the colony. Instead, she – just like every other ant in the colony – is motivated by instinct and a general sense of how she can provide for colony needs. The only royal pampering she gets is that other ants will bring her food and keep her clean.


As with other ants in the colony, the queen ant has a role to serve. She’s the egg layer of the colony. Other ants provide for the colony by taking on different roles. In an ant colony, there are multiple castes – most are female worker ants, which forage for food, clean the colony or tend to the queen. Other castes are the soldiers (for protection), drones (the only males) and princesses (up-and-coming queens).

Of course not every species’ colonies share a queen-focused civilization. Some colonies have more than one queen, which helps a colony expand quickly. Other colonies have no true queens. Instead, some worker ants have the ability to reproduce. Want to know more about ants and ant behavior? Discover more facts about ants in the TERRO ® Insect library!


As a typical ant colony matures, it switches gears from being focused on its own growth to completely reproducing itself. When that stage arrives, the queen in the current colony begins to periodically produce new queens and drones. These “princesses” and their male drones will then leave the colony to mate.

Once successfully mated, these new queens start the process all over again – each finds a new location to establish her own colony and begins to produce eggs.


Queen ants differ from the rest of the ant colony in several ways. For one thing, queen ants can be incredibly long-lived – one scientist had a queen that lived for almost 30 years. In the wild, it’s not uncommon to find queens that are more than a decade old. Ants from other castes may have a lifespan of a few months to a year or two.

Beyond their longevity, queen ants are almost always bigger than other members of their colony. This extra bulk helps her majesty lay eggs, but it’s also needed because queen ants also often have wings. These extra appendages mean they need the added musculature to power them.

In fact, when you’re trying to identify a queen, the most noticeable difference will be an enlarged thorax (the body segment below the neck), and you can sometimes see that they have wings as well. Most queens, however, will shed their wings when no longer needed. This action leaves small stubs that can be used to further identify the queen.

Finally, you can ID a queen by noting how much other ants pay attention to it. Typically, worker ants will climb all over their queen. They will be feeding and cleaning her as well as helping to secure eggs as she produces them.


Ants are one of the most prolific insects in the world. As we mentioned above, some queen ants can produce millions of offspring during their lifetimes. With all these mouths to feed, it’s not surprising that colonies constantly search for new resources – whether its food, water or shelter.

Unfortunately, those efforts can lead to clashes with people as ants begin exploring our homes or digging up our yards.

Here are a few ways to keep ants from bothering you:

  • Inside your home, keep food properly sealed and don’t leave any foodstuff or dishes in the sink. Be sure to clean up any crumbs on your counters. Once an ant colony discovers your kitchen, they will thoroughly explore it for food.
  • If ants are already a problem in your kitchen, try TERRO ® Liquid Ant Baits or TERRO ® Liquid Ant Killer. These borax-based baits offer foraging ants a sweet treat they will take back to the colony and share with others. After a short time, the borax kills the original forager and the other ants that also consumed the bait.
  • Eliminate excess moisture around your home, including leaky fixtures in bathrooms, kitchens and basements. Also try to dry up wet areas around your yard, foundation and flowerbeds. Water is a major attractant to ants, and removing it will encourage a colony to explore elsewhere.
  • TERRO ® also offers Ant Dust, a fine powder that kills ants on contact. Since it is waterproof, Ant Dust can remain effective for up to 8 months. Spread this in a uniform line around your home to create a barrier against these and other insects.
  • You should seal entry points where ants could gain access to your home. Use caulk to close off holes from utility lines, cracks around windows and other gaps that ants can exploit during their search for food.
  • Outdoor Ant Killer Spray from TERRO ® is another option. Apply this spray as a perimeter treatment to kill ants before they make it inside your home.
  • Looking for even more ant control ideas? Explore the complete line of ant-fighting products from TERRO ® and pick the one that is best for your situation.


From the ant colony’s queen to the forager exploring your home, ants can be a major annoyance! If you’re battling an ant invasion, then let us know about it in the comments below. You can also ask questions about ant and insect control when you visit TERRO ® on Facebook or by reaching out to our Consumer Care Team at 1(800) 800-1819.

For great deals on TERRO ® products and alerts about articles like this one, sign up for the TERRO ® eNewsletter.

Can a worker ant become a queen?

I have an ant question!

I have an ant farm with Little Black ants but not a queen. can one of the ants become a queen?


I’m afraid once an ant becomes an adult ant, it can no longer change form or shape. It can’t shed its skin or grow.

Adult worker black ants can not become queens, and the worker ants can not lay eggs that will become queens either.

There are a few types of ants where special workers become “queens,” but those ants are much more like wasps, and you wouldn’t want to keep them in a regular ant farm. If you’d like a more detailed explanation, check the ant queen development post.

How are your little black ants doing? I hope they are doing well.

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7 Replies to “Can a worker ant become a queen?”

I just started an ant farm but don’t have a queen, I don’t know where to get one. I might have 2 but they could also be soilder ants, I’m not sure. Can my ants become queens? Also most of the ants seem tho be having fighting compotitions. There from the same colony but I don’t know if there acully fighting or doing something else. They havn’t killed one another so what are they doing?

If the two ants are from the same colony then they shouldn’t be fighting. What exactly do they do? Do they bite at the legs or antennae? That is typically how ants fight.

Do you know what it looks like when ants exchange food? Could they be doing that?

If they are actually queens, however, then they might fight.

The smaller ants were what looked like fighting. They were kind of in balls with one another (grabing each others bodyparts and walking around or staying in one place for 1-3 days) until one of them died. I have a few that are dead know and one of the bigger ones died without doing that. There pretty good now though. And they were from the same colonie. Also a few days after I went back to there old colonie and took some eggs. There treating them like theres, how long dose it take for them to hatch though.

i created an ant farm some female worker ants are laying eggs and my ants are black ants

Are the eggs hatching yet? Some workers will lay eggs that will becomes male ants.

I Am making a ant farm and I don’t know how to find a queen, can you help me find out where to look, please?

I started to answer your question and then realized it would be easier just to write an entire post about it. Here’s how to find an ant queen:

Please let me know if you have any questions after reading it. I hope it helps.

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