How Do Ants Make a New Queen?
Several species of ants have queens that are indistinguishable from workers. The queens of some species lay millions of eggs in their lifetime. But in most species, queens aren’t accepted back into the nest. This results in a cooperative association that dissolves when new adult workers arrive.
The social structure of ants has long been considered to be a function of nature and nurture. But recent findings may overturn the long held belief that there is little genetic influence in ant caste systems. The study was published in the journal Science.
The study focused on hormones that regulate social behavior. It showed that some ants have high levels of insulin-like protein, which allows glucose to be absorbed from the blood. This protein also allows for more efficient reproduction when the ants are in larval form. The researchers used the Pogonomyrmex rugosus species, a type of ant native to Argentina.
The Argentine ant “supercolony” covers 6,000 kilometers of coastline in Europe and is home to billions of workers from millions of cooperating nests. These ants have been able to produce a large number of queens and males at the same time. This phenomenon is called swarming.
The genetics of ants play a major role in their social structure. The specific mother-father genetic combination is necessary to create the worker caste. In addition, genetics play a role in determining who becomes the queen.
The social structure of ants is centered around the queen. The queen is responsible for laying the first group of eggs in the colony. She also uses energy from redundant flight muscles to get to a suitable nesting site. The workers are responsible for feeding and grooming the queen. When the queen is disturbed, she may stop laying eggs, eat the eggs, or not lay eggs at all. The ants may also decrease the amount of pheromones, which attract workers.