Pest controllers have pondered it for a long time. In order to answer this question, we need to delve deeper in some of the crucial elements of ant family (or Formicidae, if you want to be more technical). How long ants live is determined by several different factors. Life expectancy is highly dependent on the species, with common representatives living for several years, while the members of others die off within a few weeks.
It also depends on the social role in the caste system. Ants that have a more perpetual role in the colony (such as the workers) tend to live longer than those with episodic roles. Males (or drones) for example, usually have the shortest life span because their only role is to fertilize the queen ant. On the other hand, queens usually have the longest life span, with some species extending over 30 years!
Ant Life Cycle
Like many other insects, an ant’s life begins in the form of an egg. Depending on fertilization, the egg may bear a male or a female. Because ants subscribe to the philosophy of biological determinism, their gender will play a crucial part of their “professional” development in the caste system.
Once the eggs hatch, they do not spawn adult ants right away. Instead, ants hatch in the form of a larva. Larvae are completely immobile and as such, totally defenseless. Their entire existence depends on the workers, who care for them, feed them, and protect them from invaders.
After the larva stage, ants “hit puberty” and rush into the pupal stage. They aren’t quite ants yet, but they’re starting to look the part. It is within this stage that the caste roles are determined in many species. These roles are infinitely complex and we’ve just started to find out more about them. Scientists need to do a lot more research before we can fully understand them.
Some believe that gene expression is dependent on current conditions. For example, if the queen is dead, a new pupa will be raised to take her place. However, such gene expression is discouraged if there is already a living queen.
Other entomologists postulate the caste roles are highly dependent on nutrition. Whatever the case may be, it is within this stage when the future of the ant and its occupation become known.
Finally, ants emerge from the pupae having reached maturity. They jump in their roles right away. Queens are cared for and protected by the colony. Young workers take on protective duties and caring for the young and the queen before moving on to something else. Males are used to mate with the queen to ensure the next generation of the colony. Everything is harmoniously balanced.
Different members have different life expectancy, depending on their role in the caste. Queens usually have the longest lifespan, with some species reaching over 30 years. This is not universal, however. In some species, there can be more than one queen and they live shorter lives. Some colonies don’t even have queens and instead, many females can be fertilized and give birth, without having a specialized role for the process. As a rule of thumb, however, the queen lives the longest.
Drones are male, winged ants with one main purpose – to fertilize the queen. As such, their functions are rather limited in nature and time. This negates the need for them to live any longer than a few weeks. That’s why they rarely survive any longer than that.
Ant soldiers are smaller than the queen, but are larger than the workers and usually have bigger mandibles. Their duty is to the protect the queen and the colony. They do so by either biting, stinging, or both. Usually an invader is chemically marked by the first defender that detects him. Hence, the rest know to attack.
They also sometimes help the workers with the more physically demanding tasks, such as moving a heavy piece of food. Due to the nature of their role, occupational hazards are implied. Because of that, they sometimes live less than the workers.
Workers have the second longest lifespan after the queen. Their role is essential for the survival of the colony. They take care of the queen and the offspring. They gather food and leave chemical trails for future expansions. And they make sure the colony is well-maintained. The last bit also includes ensuring enough space for the colony and expanding it, if necessary.
Workers’ duties are ingeniously delegated. Usually, the older members of the caste are tasked with the more difficult and dangerous responsibilities, whereas the younger tend to stay safer. After they emerge from their pupae, the first task they take on is caring for the queen and the young ones inside the colony. Usually, it is the oldest of ants who dig and forage for food.
Ants life expectancy widely varies on the species, as well. The lifespan of some species is quite short, while others will surprise you with their inherent longevity.
Black garden ants
The common black garden ant workers have a relative span of 1-2 years. The queen, however, can live up to 15 years, though accounts for even greater longevity are not uncommon.
Fire ant workers complete their life cycle in approximately 5-7 weeks. However, the queen can live up to 7 years.
Pharaoh ant workers have a longer lifespan than most of their cousins – 4 years. However, their queens are relatively short-lived at approximately 12 years.
Carpenter ants go through their entire life cycle in 6-12 weeks. Their queen, however, can survive up to the astounding 25 years.
Argentine ant queens are far smaller and more mobile than the queens of other species. They also take care of their own brood, allowing the workers to take better care of the colony and expand more. They sometimes even lead the expansion, themselves, which is why it’s particularly dangerous to suffer an argentine ant infestation as they are nimble to spread. To make matters worse, the queen can live up to 7 years. After her second year, she gives birth to other future queens to colonize other places. Workers live from 6 to 9 months, but since the colonies reproduce quickly, this is more than enough time for a huge infestation. In fact, the world’s largest known supercolony, spreading thousands of kilometres across over four different continents, was created by argentine ants.
Meat ants are carnivorous ants that are a polygyne species, which means they usually have more than one queen. That’s why the queen’s life expectancy is not as long as other species – 2-3 years. Workers usually live up to 9 months, but that is more than enough time to establish themselves as pests before they expire. However, they are also a very important part of the natural ecological balance in Australia as they lead the charge against the cane toads. This is still a relevant problem.
If you don’t feel like waiting for ants infesting your home to die from natural causes, you can always book professional ant control services. This way you can be sure they will leave you alone.