Ant colonies are an excellent example of coordination and cooperation, but sometimes, the nest members can kill some of their fellows, including their queen, for the betterment of the colony.
Do Ants Kill Their Queen? Ants can kill their queen to reduce their number within the nest, competition for royalty or food resources, and ensure balance in the population of male and female members. Workers can overthrow her to get a chance for reproduction, and enslaved workers attack her for revenge. It can also happen when her fertility reduces or she becomes completely infertile.
Killing a queen is known as matricide because it means killing a mother, and these reproductive females are considered mothers in a nest.
Why do ants kill their queen?
Queens ants are considered royal members of the colony because they play a significant role in the territory and contribute to the colony’s survival by laying eggs.
She has a longer lifespan and remains within nests as she gets food there. However, the colony members can attack her sometimes due to different reasons.
Keep one queen in a colony
Some ant colonies are polygynous, containing many reproductive females in their nests, including argentine ants containing almost more than one queen comprising 8 to 10% of the colony members.
Moreover, the pharaoh ants contain a maximum number of reproductive females between 2 and 100 or even 200, meaning these colonies are prominently involved in matricide.
A large number of fertile females performing the same function and laying a large number of eggs can create a chaotic situation in the nests. So, the workers can kill a few for balance and survival.
However, the colonies with only one mother ant have a lower risk of matricide as they provide good food and care to their reproductive members to ensure survival.
Lack of food resources
It is challenging for worker ants to feed a large colony containing multiple winged females when food resources are scarce.
This matricide is commonly observed in winter when the stored food is not sufficient to feed the whole colony, so the workers kill some members of the colony to use them as food.
Moreover, the queens are almost twice as large as the sterile adult workers, meaning they consume more food than other nest members.
The reproductive females stop reproducing in the winter due to a lack of food resources because larvae need plenty of food to grow properly.
Accordingly, it feels like a burden on the colony to feed many queens, particularly when she is not reproducing. So, the workers kill a few of them to minimize the wastage of resources.
Reduction in fertility or infertility
The fertile female ant mate once in her life and stores the sperm in a pouch within her abdomen. These sperm fertilize the eggs and introduce new generations in a colony.
In addition, the sperms remain viable for years allowing queens to produce millions of fertilized eggs. It rarely happens that she runs out of sperm and loses the ability to lay fertilized eggs.
The unfertilized eggs develop into reproductive males after passing through developmental stages. Moreover, the colony needs male ants only at the time of reproduction to mate with new ones.
So, the workers can kill reproductive females when their ability to lay eggs reduces over time.
Fight for the sake of royalty
They can kill their queen for the sake of royalty in a colony because there are many benefits of being a mother in a colony. She does not collect her food or participate in nest-building activities.
Moreover, these are perceived to be the mothers in a colony and are treated differently due to their roles as a whole colony depends on them. She produces eggs and raises the population.
Accordingly, every reproductive female desire to become a royal member to enjoy the benefits and fight with the old ones to replace them.
This fight for royalty can lead to the death of older reproductive females reproducing and laying eggs for many years.
So, their death allows the new daughters or princesses in a colony to become a queen and take control of the significant functions.
Ensure balance in the population
The queen ant usually produces fertilized eggs in a colony by fertilizing the eggs with stored sperm, which leads to an increased population of females in the colony.
These new females commonly turn into workers as these suppress their abilities to reproduce which can be a strategy to avoid the risk of her death.
However, the workers can produce unfertilized eggs due to their sterility, as they cannot mate with their male partners to get their sperm.
These unfertilized eggs become male ants that are usually produced in the mating season to engage in a nuptial flight with females and transfer their sperm.
Accordingly, the workers can kill her when the number of female members increases more than males, leading to a significant imbalance in the nest population.
So, it is essential to stop the queens from laying more fertilized eggs when the workers cannot maintain a balance by producing males.
Reduce the competition in the colony
An increased number of queens in one colony raises competition among them in terms of consumption of food resources, care, and space within a nest.
All winged females do not enjoy the same attention or care from the workers, resulting in competition among the queens.
This way, these reproductive females try to kill each other for more food and a chance to lay eggs. The workers can also kill one of them when they cannot provide enough care to them.
The bigger females need more space in the nest and more food to build their bodies and produce eggs compared to other colony members, so they are considered a burden on a colony.
Take revenge on the colony
Some species of ants are slave-makers, stealing eggs and larvae from other colonies and feeding them to become adults. These eggs become slave workers in a colony and perform tasks for them.
However, the blood-red ants can enslave growing pupae and even adult workers. These insects attack nests of other species and kidnap their pupae to make them future slaves.
Accordingly, these enslaved workers do not leave a chance and take revenge for being forced to work for the colony. They can overthrow reproductive females or kill them without any mercy.
What happens when ants kill their queen?
Ant colonies have different castes according to their functions, body size, and gender. Some fertile females or queen ants inside a nest have wings and the potential to lay eggs.
In addition, reproductive males are also present in a small number that can increase during early summer and spring or at the time of mating.
Workers are sterile females constituting almost 85 to 90% population of the nest and are known to be the workforce. The death of a few workers or males does not affect the colony.
However, it is not possible for an ant colony to survive without a mother or reproductive female because she ensures the continuity of the population by producing eggs.
There are some chances of survival if there is a princess in a colony that can become a queen if fed a good diet and gets proper care.
Furthermore, the workers keep performing their tasks without a mother, that is mistakenly considered to be the controller, but the whole colony dies when the adults reach the death phase.