Pest Resources

How Long Do Ants Live?

In this article, we will answer the question how long ants live, and give you some interesting information about ants. They are really quite fascinating, even if some people see them as pests and want to get rid of them.

Their lifespan can vary from 4 weeks to 6 months depending on the species. We go into more detail below for the main species you may come across.

How many ant species are there?

There are over 12,000 different species of ants around the world. How many are there on our planet? Nobody knows the exact answer to that; billions, probably.

The life cycle of an ant

M0016636 John Mellanby. Photograph by J. Russell & Sons. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images John Mellanby. Photograph by J. Russell & Sons. Vervolg der brieven Leeuwenhoek, Anthony van Published: 1688 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
  • The Eggs are very small, and oval-shaped. Some get eaten in the nest.
  • The egg develops into a worm-like larvae that does not have any eyes or legs.
  • In The Pupal stage, the pupa looks more like an adult, but its wings and legs are tucked up. The pupa of some species spin a cocoon for protection, while other species are naked.
  • Adult, a young adult is lighter in colour but will darken with age. They are fully grown when they emerge. Like other insects, they have an exoskeleton for protection.

Caste system

Most species of ants live together in a colony, and have a caste system. Worker ants care for the queen, tend to the young, forage for food, sort out colony disputes, and remove waste from the colony. Most of the eggs laid will hatch out as worker ants.

Male ants are simply there for mating, and develop from unfertilized eggs.

The queen lays eggs for her entire life, keeping the colony’s population growth.

The role of an ant is decided by how much protein has been consumed, not genetics. A diet high in protein will produce worker ants, while higher levels will produce queen ants.

Queen ants

A Queen Ant
A Queen Ant

Queen ants have the longest ant life cycle, compared to other ants in a colony.

The lifespan of the most common ant species can be up to 10 – 15 years for a queen ant. Some have been known to have an even longer life expectancy. It depends on the species when deciding on how long ants can live. Good living conditions can deter how long a queen lives.

Queen ants are usually the largest member of the ant colony.   

What does the queen ant do?

Queen ants have two roles in their life, to begin their own colony and find and mate with male winged ants.

Once the queen ant has mated, she will lose her wings and find somewhere for a new ant nest and lay eggs. When the larvae have matured, they will look after the queen ant, allowing these small colonies to soon grow. Ant queens can lay millions of eggs in their lifetime.

Queen ants live mainly in the nest and may come out if the colony is under threat, or if the queen needs to find a new nest.

The queen ant, like most ants will, not feed for weeks, feeding only after she has produced workers.

The queen will use sperm from a male she gained from during the nuptial flight, which will last her a lifetime. She will not mate with another male ant again.

A queen can attack and kill another queen from a different colony.

She will enter a host nest and pass herself off as the original queen by covering herself in the body fluids from the original queen she has just killed. Returning ants to the nest accept the scent as that of their original queen.

After mating, the male ants will die. Ant queens are responsible for making sure her entire colony survives.

Some colonies can exist with multiple queens; this helps the colony grow. Some worker ants are able to produce eggs when a colony does not have a queen ant.

A mature colony will expand. Queen ants produce new queens and drones, the new ant queen will leave the large colony with her drones, and mate, lay ant eggs, and then start their own colonies.

And so the process starts all over again.

Male ants

fully grown male fire ant
A fully grown male fire ant

Male ants only have one purpose and that is to mate with winged females. The winged males fly off for a nuptial flight.

The male ants live for only a couple of days after their flight, and will die shortly after mating. A males life expectancy is only around a few weeks in total as a result.

Worker ants

Worker ants are female ants, and stay mainly in the ant colonies. A worker ant will look after the young.

Worker ants are responsible for nest building and repairs, look for food, tend to the queen ant, and guard the colony.

Worker ants live around 1-3 years.

Worker ants are unable to produce eggs, as they are sterile females. Worker ants develop from fertilized eggs.

Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants live in usually rotting wood, so are often found in forests. However, they can be found in wooden buildings, causing damage to them.

Carpenter ants are divided into two types, minor ants and major ants. Minor ants are responsible for foraging for a food sources, and major ants, which are larger, are the soldier ants.

Both of these types of ants share the same genes, but their behavior is very different.

Carpenter ants are black in color and are around 5mm in length. There are around 1,000 different types of species.

These ants live and tunnel through wood. They do bite, but it is rare, and not harmful. It is not a painful sting. You may feel burning afterwards.

The black garden ant (Lasius Niger)

Black garden ants live in the soil, and you may find them under flat stones or between gaps in paving stones.

Like other ant species, if environmental factors are right, you will see the black garden ants flying off to mate during July and August. You might see this happening from several different colonies.

You will see these ants between the months of May to October.

What do they eat?

Black garden ants like to eat sweet foods. In their natural habitat they like aphids and honeydew. To help the colony survive, workers who have discovered food will leave the scent of pheromone along its route so that other ants from the colony can find their way to the food.

Pharaoh ants

Most ants are black or red, but a few species are colored differently, like the Pharaoh ants, which are yellow or light brown. They are around 2mm in length.

This species of ant has a lifespan of 12 months for the queen and worker ants can live 10 weeks on average.

The color difference is more noticeable in an ant from tropical countries, which is where these ants thrive.

This ant species is seen as a major ant problem. The pharaoh species do bite, and the ants carry salmonella. When they get into hospitals it can be worrying for staff, as these insects can infect the wounds of patients with salmonella.

Unlike a lot of ant species, they can have many queens in their large colonies.

These ants find anything fatty and sweet as their food source.

If you are considering pest control for them, do not spray them, as they will disperse and form many other colonies. We strongly recommend professional pest control.

Argentine ants

This species of ant is very aggressive compared to the average ant. They can destroy wiring and chase away other species of ants.

A single ant can move from one colony to another, unlike most species of an ant, who stay in their own colony.

The lifespan of this species is 12 months.

The queen will lay up to 60 times a day. It takes around 74 days for a worker ant to develop and become an adult.

You will not see them in flight, as they mate in the nest and not in the air, unlike other ant species.

They like to live indoors and can be found in a colony within potted plants. In the winter they can live in walls.

Although aggressive in nature, they do not bite humans.

Fire ants

Fire ants have venom made up of alkaloids, enzymes, and neurotoxins that can disturb the nervous system.

They can give a nasty sting that can blisters if it causes an allergic reaction. In some rare cases there can be serious health problems where the throat swells up and a person cannot breathe.

They are native to South America. Fire ants are also known as thief ants because they take food and offspring from other colonies.

They build nests by pushing up the soil into mounds that can be about a foot tall.

This species can live for 3-7 years for the queen and 4-6 weeks for the workers.

Sugar ants

This species is a native of Australia. They are small and black, getting their name because of their love of sugar. In the United States, all sweet loving ants are given this name.

They cannot sting but are able to spray formic acid.

The Australian banded sugar ant is found in southern Australia. These ants live in open forests, woodlands, and urban areas. They build their nests in soil, under logs, and rocks.

They do not sting, but the larger workers can give a painful bite with their powerful jaws. They can be 7 – 12 mm in length.

Ghost ants

These are the smallest species of ants in the united kingdom, only being 1.6 mm in length. They are given the name ghost due to their see-through bodies.

Slave maker ants

These are the largest ant species in the United Kingdom. They are red and black in color.

They get their name because the queen will go into another colony, kill the queen, and steal the workers for herself, making them her slaves.

She drives out the adults and keeps the eggs and waits for them to hatch. From birth, they accept her scent as being their queen.

How long do they live on an ant farm?

In captivity, an ant farm can survive for 6 months; others may last longer if their environment is good. You must make sure they have everything they need to survive, like access to food.

If you provide food, heat and space, having an ant farm is not cruel to the ant. A colony will live quite happily in a farm if you catch a young queen ant.

Leaf-cutters are amazing to watch and can be bought for an ant farm. These ants live for around 3-5 weeks. They can strip a plant quickly and carry large pieces back to the colony.

And finally,

We hope you have found this article interesting. Ants help our ecosystem. They are biological control agents, they spread seeds around, pollinate plants, and improve soil quality. Please consider this when thinking about pest control.

They can be annoying and bite, but the common black garden ant is harmless, and if left alone outside these ants live with nature, and thus there is no need for pest control.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to drop us an email. We will do our best to respond as quickly as possible.

Ronald has 25 years of pest control experience under his belt. He scrutinizes each control method, product and process to prevent infestations effectively. 

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