The queen ant may live for several years, the workers generally live for a few months, though some live up to year, and the males die as soon as they mate giving them an average lifespan of a few weeks.
Ants are members of the order Hymenoptera passing through four distinct stages of life-egg, larvae, pupa, adult.
Egg: Ant life begins with one of two mating rituals, the male aggregation syndrome or female calling. Both mating rituals conclude with a fertilized queen beginning a new colony and laying eggs. The number of eggs the queen will lay depends on the species. As an example, the carpenter ant may only lay a few eggs per month, while the African driver ant can lay three to four million eggs every twenty-five days.
Larvae: Ant eggs will hatch into maggot-like larvae. They look nothing like the adults that will ultimately become. During complete metamorphosis, the larvae represent the growth stage. Both the queen and worker ants will feed the larvae in accordance to their adult role. Once they begin to grow, they will molt and will begin the pupa stage.
Pupa: There are two distinct pupa stages varying by ant species. In one instance of the pupa stage, the pupa resembles a smaller, white version of the adult. The pupa will darken in color as it grows. In the other pupa stage, the larvae will spin itself into a silk cocoon where it will remain encased. During this time, it does not move or eat as its body completely restructures itself from the inside out. When conditions are right, it will emerge an adult, or as is the case with carpenter ants, the worker ants will extract it.
Adult: Only the queen and the male ants have wings. The males use them during the mating process to fly with the queen. The queen uses hers to leave her birth colony to begin her own. Once she establishes the colony and lays her eggs, she will chew off her wings.
Note: There are well over 12,000 species of ants so it is difficult to generalize. Use the citations to find in-depth information for specific species.
Chapter 18: Highest Lifetime Fecundity | The University of Florida Book of Insect Records | Department of Entomology & Nematology | UF/IFAS.” UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA ENTOMOLOGY AND NEMATOLOGY DEPARTMENT. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/chapters/chapter_18.shtml.
Ogg, Barb, PhD, and Extension Educator. “Carpenter Ant Management.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. http://lancaster.unl.edu/pest/resources/carpant004.shtml.
Shik, JZ, and M Kaspari. “Lifespan in male ants linked to mating syndrome .” Insectes Sociaux 56.2 (2009): 131-134. Print.
“BugMobile Questions & Answers – Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management – Penn State University.” Home – Cooperative Extension – Penn State Cooperative Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. http://extension.psu.edu/ipm/kids/bugmobile-questions-answers.
“Hymenoptera – definition from Biology-Online.org.” Life Science Reference – Biology Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Hymenoptera.
“Ant Information.” UA Center for Insect Science Education Outreach. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. http://insected.arizona.edu/antinfo.htm.