How an Ant Colony Operates

There are roughly 1 million billion ants on earth. That is 1,000,000,000,000,000 ants from over 12,000 species.

Ants are among the most successful species on the planet. That's due to how an ant colony operates.

A new ant colony begins when a generation of winged male and female ants is born to a previous colony. These reproductive ants swarm out of the colony to establish new ones. Some females will become new queens.

Every ant in the colony has a job to do. The queen's job is to lay eggs, producing more ants. Male ants, called drones, exist only to mate with the queen. They are rarely seen outside of the colony.

Most ants are female, but don't reproduce. They are the workers. These are the ants you are most likely to see.

Worker ants build and expand the nest and protect it from other ants. They also go looking for food to bring back. If you see ants in your home, that is probably the mission they're on..

An ant colony can be home to thousands or even tens of thousands of ants, although the number varies by species. This number expands quickly. Different species of queen ants may lay as few as twenty up to thousands of eggs in a single day.

The queen can determine whether to lay fertilized or unfertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs will become female ants. Some of those may become queens and start new colonies. Unfertilized eggs produce male drone ants.

She may also lay _trophic_ eggs. These are special unfertilized eggs that are meant to be eaten. This is useful if there's not much food available or if it's early in the formation of a new colony and there aren't a lot of foraging ants yet. Some worker ants can lay trophic eggs to feed to the queen as well. This helps the colony survive even when food is scarce.

The queens live much longer than the other ants in the colony, which she is constantly replacing with new ants. A black garden ant queen can live for 30 years. Compared to the average drone, on a human scale that would be equivalent to living 30,000 years - and constantly producing hundreds of offspring the entire time.

When multiple colonies of the same species of ants are close to each other, they may form a supercolony. This is a group of ant colonies, each with its own queen, workers, and drones, that cooperate with each other for protection and even greater growth.

There are supercolonies of ants that cover thousands of square miles and include millions of ants. In 2009, scientists discovered that there's actually a global  megacolony of Argentine ants that spans multiple continents.

There are roughly 1 million times as many ants as there are human beings on earth. Because of how an ant colony operates, they have become the most numerous social animal on the planet.

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