How long do ants live?
It is rather complicated to determine how long an ant can live. For starters, there are over 12000 ant species worldwide and all of them have different life expectancies. Even within one single ant species, you have to look at the role an ant is playing to determine how long they can live. Males and females do not live for the same amount of time, and neither do ants in different castes, like queens and workers. Insects usually live for small periods of time – but not every ant is like that.
Scientists have determined that ants can live for as little than a couple of days (or a week) to almost three decades. But not everyone has the opportunity to live for thirty years. Male ants die first, as they are used for reproduction only. Most male ants live for a couple of days and, in the best-case scenario, up to a month. Female sterile ants, also known as worker ants, can live for years. On average, worker ants can live for 5 years, if left undisturbed. A queen ant usually lives for 15 years and can reach double that time before dying from natural causes.
Of course, most ants living in the wild never reach their life expectancy before dying. Nature is merciless and ants usually fall prey to bigger insects or animals. Humans are also constantly trying to eliminate ants if they cross paths. But one thing is certain, if you have an ant problem, trying to outlive them might not be a good strategy.
If you’re curious about how long other bugs live, check out our article Which Bugs Live the Longest?
How long do queen ants live?
The queen ant can live up to thirty years. That’s one of the best life expectancies an insect can have. Their entire role is to maintain the colony’s population and eventually generate queens to create more colonies. It’s rather difficult that a queen ant can live the full thirty years, as there are a lot of problems and predators in the wild. Besides threats from the outside, a queen ant can face problems from within their species as well. Certain types of queen ants do not want to reproduce to create a colony, but instead, look to kill another queen ant and steal her colony afterward. Queen ants’ lives can also be cut short early on: in some cases, colonies start with several queens to speed up the colony’s growth. Once the colony’s numbers are stable, queen ants begin to hunt down each other — with the possibility of leaving no queen ant alive.
Usually, most queen ants see their lives cut short in the wild. Even in captivity, it’s almost impossible for them to reach a full thirty years. There’s a well-known case of a queen ant that lived for more than two decades thanks to a German scientist, who kept a queen ant alive for 28 years and 9 months.
How long do worker ants live?
Worker ants lay in the middle ground of ant’s life expectancy. They don’t live as much as their queen, but they outlive their male counterparts. As you know, an ant’s life expectancy is determined by several factors, like species and their environment. But worker ants can live up to 15 years under ideal conditions, and five years on average. But this is rarely the case, due to the role some worker ants play in their colony.
In a colony, worker ants can perform two tasks: they either care for the young ants or leave to find food. A worker ant that stays in the colony feeding their younger siblings has a high chance to survive. A worker ant who has to go out and face the wild to find food is more likely to meet their death way before it is 15 years old.
Regardless of whether a worker ant stays in the colony or wanders off, they are in a better spot than their male counterparts, who don’t get to live for longer than 30 days.
How long do ants live without a queen?
If the queen ant dies, the colony’s clock starts ticking. There is no real-time limit to determine how long will the colony survive. It’s up to the worker ants. When the last worker ant has died, the ant colony is officially over.
There are a few scenarios where a queen ant’s death does not necessarily mean the colony’s demise, but they are rather rare scenarios. If there are eggs that haven’t hatched before the queen died, there’s a small possibility a new queen might be born from them. There have to be multiple worker ants to care for the eggs and feed the larvae, to protect and nourish the newly crowned queen.
The other possibility of a colony surviving without a queen comes from a replacement. From time to time, Ant queens leave their colony due to competition. They can find themselves looking for a colony to take over rather than creating their own. If a wandering queen ant finds herself facing a queen-less colony, the colony and the new queen Ant might be able to help each other survive.
How long does an ant live by itself?
Ants are incredibly social creatures. They depend on each other to survive and thrive. If an ant wanders for long enough to become lost, it does not have a lot of time before dying. Matter of fact, scientists have determined that ants who wander far away from their colony can only live for one-tenth of their life expectancy. But it’s probably way less, as there are more than enough predators that might want to eat a solitary ant. It’s also hard for an ant to find a new food source by itself in a short time.
Can ants die of old age?
Yes, they can. It’s not a common occurrence, as ants live a dangerous lifestyle, but an ant can reach old age and die from natural causes. As you know, worker ants can live up to a couple of years and queen ants can live for decades. After their time is up, they die. But most ants never face seniority, as nature can be merciless and unforgivable.
What’s a common cause of death for ants?
As you have read, old age is not a common thing for ants to deal with.
- Ants are in a constant struggle to find food and constantly battling other species and their own – ants constantly fight with each other.
- They are not fighting inside their colony, but it is a well-known fact that colonies can engage in a battle between each other, whether it’s for food or territory. Or simply because they have crossed paths.
- If ant’s colonies aren’t at war with one another, they also have to look out for predators, like spiders or praying mantis.
- A few reptiles and birds are out there looking for ants to feed off to as well.
- Worker ants can also fail to accomplish their purpose and leave their colony without food, slowly but surely bringing an entire colony to its demise.
How can ant colonies survive for so long?
Even though ants are most likely to die from anything other than natural causes, ant colonies can survive for years on end. That’s because ants are restless workers and are constantly reproducing – not only within their colony but creating more colonies around them as well. A queen ant is in charge of controlling the colony and making sure their numbers grow. Once the colony is stable, the queen Ant might create a few more queens to make the ant population spread farther apart. This cycle is constantly repeating itself, making sure ants thrive even though they do not see old age often.
How long do ants live without food?
Once the food starts running out in the colony, the queen ant will start to ration the food portions. The queen ant will keep eating the same amount of food as she’s used to. The eggs and larvae will be a second priority. Worker ants will start to eat less and less until they either find more food or food runs out completely. If they find a place to get food for the entire colony, everything goes back to normal. If food runs out, the colony has between four to seven days before they are all dead.
How long do ants live in an ant farm?
If ants are living in their natural habitat, out in the wild, dangers surround their colony constantly. If they are captured or hatched in an ant farm, the risks and dangers are drastically reduced. If the owner takes proper care of the ant farm, it’s more likely than not that most ants will live for long periods of time, perhaps meeting their life expectancy and dying of natural causes. But this can go both ways, a reckless owner can kill an entire colony faster than nature will do it.
If you have bought commercially distributed ants, it’s a completely different scenario. Most places do not sell queen ants and will only send you worker ants. If a colony doesn’t have a queen ant, the farm will last as long as the workers do – usually three to four months.
Want to learn more about ant farms? Read our article Are Ant Farms A Bad Idea? for more info!
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