Ant Colonies, Termite Colonies, and the Wonders of Social Insects

By admin | Blog |

Long Island residents are no strangers to ants and termites! These pests are seen frequently by locals year-round, and they live in large colonies often containing thousands of inhabitants. Ants pose a nuisance to homeowners because they commonly cause infestations in areas such as kitchens and bathrooms that have appealing, easily accessible food and water sources. Termites, on the other hand, pose threats to the structural integrity of homes, often costing homeowners thousands of dollars in damages. 

An often overlooked trait of both ants and termites is the fact that they have powerful and organized social systems running like well-oiled machines behind the scenes. With specialized roles for each unit within a colony, every ant and termite has a job that contributes to the goals of the colony. 

Ant Colony Structure

Tiny as they are, ants live in these complex social colonies, and an “ant colony” refers not only to the physical structure in which ants live, but also the social rules they follow and the work they do. If you see an ant hill, this isn’t an ant colony, but actually the exit of the colony. The colony itself stretches deep underground, as deep as 25 feet below the surface.

How Many Ants in a Colony?

The number of ants in a colony is important to ants, and can affect how they forage, how they mate, how they defend their nests, and what they look like. Some colonies may have just a few ants, but larger super colonies can have millions of workers. The seasons also play a role. While a colony may have a few hundred workers in the summer, that number may multiply to thousands of workers in the winter. 

Supercolonies occur when multiple ant colonies combine. Until 2000, the largest ant colony known of was in Japan. This single colony held 306 million worker ants and one million queen ants. They were living in a whopping 45,000 different nests, all interconnected with one another through underground passages!

In 2000, another supercolony was found, this time in Southern Europe, containing millions of nests, and billions of workers. These supercolonies were actually found to be an intercontinental megacolony, making them the most populous recorded animal society on earth besides humans.

Types of Ants in a Colony

Within their colony, ants follow a particular organizational structure, and each ant has an assigned job.

Queen Ant

The ant colony queen is the leader of her colony, and her primary role is to reproduce. The queen will lay thousands of eggs, and she is protected by living deep within the ant colony as protection against predators. Queen ants can have a very long lifespan compared to the other ants in her colony, sometimes living for several decades.

Drones

Drones are male ants, and their sole responsibility is to mate with the queen ant so she can lay eggs. Drones actually die as soon as they’ve fulfilled their responsibility to do so.

Worker Ants

Worker ants are females, however they don’t like eggs like the queen ant. Instead, they do all of the other basic functions needed to build and maintain a successful ant colony. Worker ants may help build the nest, forage for food, and protect the rest of the colony. Worker ants do live much shorter lives than the queen, only existing for a few weeks to a year.

The Structure of the Termite Colony

Similar to ants, termites are another social insect with three different castes of inhabitants, each with a different job within the termite colony structure.

Worker Termites

In most termite colonies, the largest class within the social system is made up of worker termites. If you see termites infesting the wood of your home, it’s most likely these guys who are hard at work. Worker termites will forage for food for the rest of the colony, build nests and tunnels, and do repair work. They’re also responsible for making sure other termites within the colony are fed.

Termite Soldiers

Termite soldiers’ role is to protect the termite colony against predators. They are usually larger than worker termites and have protruding jaws, making them more suitable for batting invaders of the colony (typically ants). 

Termite King

The termite king spends its life completely underground, and is second only to the queen in terms of social status. As part of the reproductive group, the termite king’s role is to seal itself inside a protected area with the queen, where they stay inside and mate. Aside from mating with the termite queen and releasing pheromones into the colony which prevent other termites from developing reproductive organs, the termite king has it pretty easy, with no other duties in the colony.

Termite Queen

Larger than the other termites in her colony, the termite queen, like the termite king, is part of the reproductive group. Initially, the queen’s role is to pair with a male termite, the king, and get a colony started. Later, her key role is to produce eggs to sustain the growth of the termite colony, as well as its survival.

Queens lay eggs every day, and are responsible for controlling the size of the colony and along with the king, by producing the pheromones that inhibit the formation of other reproductives within the colony. Termite queens are typically the oldest termite within their colonies, sometimes living up to 50 years, with a solid 10 years of reproduction. 

Manage Insect Colonies with a Trusted Long Island Exterminator

Part of preventing and eliminating pests so you can protect your home starts with understanding the biology of the insects trying to wreak havoc. Suburban Exterminating’s team is experienced with identifying insect colonies, including their queens, to help eradicate pest issues from the top down. To schedule a free ant or termite inspection, call (631/516) 864-6900.

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