Carpenter ant queens begin as winged ants. In the summer the winged ants fly out of the colony where they developed. The winged females mate with winged male carpenter ants. The inseminated female ant makes a small nest and lays a few eggs. She tends the eggs until they hatch. This first batch of ants develops into small workers. The workers begin to gather food and care for the new queen.
The queen's primary job is to produce eggs. For the first few years, all of the eggs develop into workers. These are sterile female ants. After the colony has become mature – as many as 6 to 10 years – some of the immature ants develop into winged male and female ants. These winged ants will fly out of their nest to find mates and start new colonies.
The queen controls many things in an ant colony. As long as she is healthy, she prevents any new queens from developing and taking her place. When she produces an egg, the queen controls whether it will develop into a male or female ant.
Most colonies of carpenter ants have only one queen. A few species of carpenter ants have multiple queens in the same colony. The species Camponotus vicinus (Mayr) has multiple queens in a colony. The colonies of this species are very large. Scientists suspect that the multiple queens may be the reason for the large colony size.
As the colony grows, the workers often make satellite nests. If they have invaded a home for food or water, the workers might make some of the satellite nests inside the home. There are often immature ants, both larvae and pupae, in the satellite nests. The queen stays in the main nest where she continues to produce eggs. The workers may transport the larvae to a satellite nest so they are closer to the food and therefore easier to feed.
When people try to control carpenter ants, the queen can be a factor in the colony's survival. If the pest control treatment does not reach the queen, she will continue to produce eggs. In that case, the ant population will soon be back to the original level.
Many people use bait to control carpenter ants effectively. The workers take the bait into the nest and share it with the other ants. If enough bait was applied, some of it will be fed to the queen. When she eats some of the bait, she will die. With no eggs or immature ants developing, the colony will die.