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Insects and other arthropods

Ants: Life in society

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The Queen ants emits different pheromones. Some change the behavior of workers while others inhibit ovarian development. This explains why the workers are sterile.
Photo: Insectarium de Montréal (Claude Pilon)

Ants are insects whose social life is highly organized, comparable only to that of honey bees or termites. Ants are considered social insects because they live in organized colonies and form complex societies. They are generally composed of three castes: the queen, the drones and the workers. Each caste has its own specific morphology and carries out specific tasks within the community. Colony life has many advantages, one of the most important being increased protection for the entire group.

Long live the queen!

Generally, each ant colony has only one queen. She spends her life laying eggs. There are also female worker bees that do not reproduce, instead carrying out a number of other tasks: foraging for food, caring for the queen and her brood, building galleries, maintaining the nest and defending the anthill. The only purpose that drones serve is to fertilize queens, and they are only found inside the colony for short periods of time. Shortly after mating, they die.

Ants generally mate in the air. The queen’s abdomen contains a small spherical receptacle called a spermatheca, which receives spermatozoa during conception. The spermatheca produces nutrients that keep the semen alive for several years, allowing the queen to lay thousands of eggs without mating with another drone.

Once she is in her new home, the queen lays her first eggs. She cares for the first brood herself, feeding them from her own reserves. The first adult workers are very small. This first generation of workers, and all future generations, are in charge of all the work in the anthill.

Communication based on teamwork

Ants communicate with one another by brushing their antennae together, through sound and especially through odorous chemical substances called pheromones. These chemical particles, released by both workers and the queen, regulate sexual and social behaviour within a species. In some species, if an old queen is sick, she releases pheremones that cause workers to feed certain larvae in order to produce a new queen who will take over when the old queen dies.

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