Ants: Members of the Colony
James C. Trager
Ant colonies contain male and female members. However, most of the time the colony is populated only by females. Each ant colony has at least one queen, who is more of an egg-producing factory than a ruler. Some ant species have several queens in a colony, while a few kinds have hundreds. Male ants have short life spans, appearing in great numbers during the mating season. Once their job — flying out and mating with the winged queens from another colony — is accomplished, they die. Most of the colony is composed of workers, small wingless females that do not breed. Some colonies also have larger, big-headed workers called major workers.
There may be more than one species of ant in a colony. For example, slave-making ants kidnap other ants and bring them back to work in the colony. Young queens of other kinds of ants leave their own colony to take over another species' colony. After killing the colony's queen, the invader queen forces the workers to raise its young. Eventually all the host ants are replaced by the invading ants.
Other kinds of animals, usually other invertebrates, may be "guests" of the colony. The guests are usually scavengers, eating leftover food or waste in the nest. Sometimes these invertebrates feed on the young or adult ants. The invaders may also use special chemicals to repel attacking ants or to fool ants into accepting them into the colony. In tropical rain forests, social wasps, bees, or even birds may live in part of an ant nest, or they may build separate nests nearby.