How do ants mate?

Answered by Tom Adger

Ant mating, also known as the mating flights or nuptial flights, is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs simultaneously in all ant nests of a particular species. During these flights, female ants, known as “queen” ants, embark on a long journey to find a suitable mate from another nest. This mating process is essential for the survival and genetic diversity of the ant colonies.

The mating flights of ants are a highly coordinated event, where thousands or even millions of winged ants take to the air at the same time. These winged ants, both males and females, known as alates, are specially produced by the colony in preparation for the mating flights. The alates typically have functional wings, allowing them to fly and explore a wider area to find potential mates from different colonies.

Once the queen ants take flight, they release pheromones into the air to attract the winged males from other nests. These pheromones act as chemical signals, guiding the males towards the queens. It’s an incredible display of nature’s intricate communication system.

When a male ant detects the pheromone trail, he follows it until he reaches the queen. Once he finds her, the male will initiate mating by curling his abdomen underneath the queen’s abdomen and transferring sperm into her seminal receptacle. This process is known as insemination, and it ensures that the queen will have a supply of sperm to fertilize her eggs for the rest of her life.

After mating, the male ant’s role is complete, and he will die soon after. This is because his sole purpose is to pass on his genetic material to the queen, and his individual survival is of no consequence to the colony. The queen, on the other hand, will continue her journey, eventually landing and shedding her wings.

Once the queen has shed her wings, she will search for a suitable nesting site to start her own colony. This can be a long and arduous process, as the queen needs to find a location with sufficient resources and protection for the survival of her offspring. Once she has found a suitable spot, the queen will excavate a chamber and lay her first batch of eggs.

From these eggs, worker ants will eventually hatch. These workers are all female and are responsible for the day-to-day tasks of the colony, such as foraging for food, caring for the brood, and maintaining the nest. The queen’s primary role is to lay eggs and ensure the survival and growth of the colony.

Ant mating is a complex and coordinated event that allows for genetic diversity within ant colonies. The queen ants embark on mating flights, attracting winged males from other nests through pheromones. The males inseminate the queens, transferring sperm to ensure the fertilization of eggs. After mating, the male ants die, while the queens shed their wings and establish new colonies. This process is crucial for the survival and propagation of ant colonies, and it serves as a remarkable example of nature’s ingenuity.