The queen is the key member of an ant colony. The queen produces the eggs that develop into new members of the colony. The queen also controls all of the activities in the colony.
A new ant colony starts when winged male and female ants mate. The mated female finds a suitable location and burrows into the soil. She makes a small nest and lays a few eggs. . When the eggs hatch, she feeds the larvae.
This first batch of larvae develops into workers. When they are mature, they take over the duties of finding food, caring for the young, and building the nest. The new queen's job is to produce eggs and to control the activities of the ants in the colony.
The queen produces chemical odors, called pheromones. The queen uses the pheromones that she produces to communicate with the workers in the colony. If the queen dies, the workers will join another colony of the same species.
When the queen is present and healthy, she regulates the activities of the workers as they care for the eggs and larvae. She also regulates whether eggs will develop into winged ants.
Harvester ants, carpenter ants, and leafcutter ants usually have only one queen in a colony. Some other species, including pharaoh ants, thief ants, and Argentine ants have many queens in each colony. A few species, like the red imported fire ant, have colonies with one queen and colonies with multiple queens.
Most ant species produce winged, or alate, male and female ants in the springtime. These winged ants fly out of the nest in a swarm. They use pheromones to find mates. After they mate, the males die and the females start new colonies.
Some ants, like the pharaoh ant, start new colonies by a different process. The process these ants use to start new colonies is called budding. Pharaoh ant colonies have multiple queens. When it is time to start new colonies, the queens simply walk away from the old nest. Some of the workers accompany each queen. When the queens find new nesting places, they have created many new colonies.