Ants are highly social insects and live in colonies ranging in size from a few tens of individuals to over a million individuals, depending on species.
Colonies can exist for several years, to decades in some cases. Some colonies remain in one place, while others are mobile armies moving from one food source to another. The colony consists of one to several breeding females (queens), with the remainder consisting of wingless sterile workers. Male ants are only produced seasonally for breeding with new females when new colonies are being started.
Colony foundation and reproduction
The details of colony founding and reproduction vary widely between species (Hölldobler and Wilson, 1990). Three distinct stages are recognisable.
Stage 1: The Founding Stage
After mating with one or more males, the new queen seeks a suitable nest site in the soil or plant material. At the chosen site, she constructs a first nest cell and rears the first brood of workers, using her own body tissue (the now useless flight muscles and fat reserves) to produce eggs and feed the larvae.
Stage 2: The Ergonomic Stage
Soon after becoming adults, the new workers take over the tasks of foraging, nest enlargement and brood care and feeding the queen. The queen confines herself to egg laying and regulating colony activity. The colony continues to grow in size and numbers, workers become larger and new physical castes are added in some species.
Stage 3: The Reproductive Stage
When the colony has reached a certain population size the queen begins to produce the queens and males, which will form the next generation.