Ants are known to have a short life cycle. However, it may surprise you to know that some ants can outlive household pets. Many have life spans that vary from days to decades. The question of how long do ants live actually varies widely by species and type of ant. We will dive a bit deeper to uncover some specific instances of the curious world of ant life expectancy!
So, How Long Do Ants Live?
It depends. Most ants live between 60-90 days, except for the Queens who may live for nearly a full year. However, there are many different kinds of ants and ant life expectancy varies to some extent by the species. Odorous House Ants tend to live the longest, with an ant life expectancy of 2-3 years. A worker fire ant has the shortest ant life span- about five weeks.
Queen Ant Life Expectancy
There are some similarities among the various species. For instance, each species is organized into a colony, or community. Each colony has male and female workers and a queen. The queen exists to lay an abundance of eggs. She’s the “Big Cheese,” like the president or the CEO of a company. The queen gets special treatment and is given the most food. Queens have a much longer life expectancy than workers. In some cases, a worker queen ant lives for 2-3 decades (20-30 years!).
Depending on the species, a colony may have more than one queen. Queens usually hatch in the latter part of spring. In winter, they sleep. They awaken in the spring to lay the eggs from which the next year’s ants will emerge and fly away to seek a mate.
Females that don’t have wings do not reproduce. They hunt food, take care of the babies produced by the queen, guard the colony and perform a variety of other tasks. Workers also build the anthills. As the population grows, the mounds expand in number and in size. Workers have a shorter ant life expectancy than queens, and usually expire in late summer.
Ant communities also have ‘soldier’ ants that safeguard the queen and the colony, forage for food, and make assaults on other communities to find nesting areas. If they attack and defeat another colony, they take the eggs of the community they vanquish. When the eggs emerge, these ants become “slave” ants for the colony.
Kinds of Ants
The major types of ants (the ones you are likely to see), include Harvester Ants, Carpenter Ants, Fire ants, Odorous House Ants, and Field Ants. How long do ants live based on their species? Each species has a different life span described below.
Harvester ants are found deserts and prairies, and harvest plant seeds for food. They store the seeds in underground nests. If the seeds get wet, the harvester ant workers will carry the food stores above ground to dry them and keep them from germinating. Harvesters construct anthills areas that have grass, but they eliminate the grass from the area around their nest. Harvester ants can live as long as six months.
Carpenter ants are large. The workers often measure 1/2 inch in length. The queen is usually about three-quarters of an inch in size. These insects construct nests anywhere they can find water and wet wood, such as tree stumps, firewood or in the plants. They construct their nests in wood, often inside a building. They dig tunnels in the wood and these tunnels can damage the structure of the edifice.
Carpenter ants survive on a diet of other insects, meat, fats and sweet foods, such as nectar from plants. The queen starts her nest in a cavity in wood, where she raises her first family of workers. When they are mature, those workers then get the job of gathering food to feed the next generation and this group works to lay up a supply of food for the entire colony. The life cycle of a carpenter ant is approximately 6 to 12 weeks, but the queen often lives a year or longer.
Like harvester ants, fire ants defend their nests aggressively, and will attack when they are threatened. Fire ants build anthills in open, sunny places, such as parks, farms, and golf courses. Fire ant mounds act as thermostats to regulate the underground temperature. The ants move up and down in the galleries in sync with changes in the temperature. Some colonies of fire ants have more than one queen. In ideal conditions, queens sometimes live six or seven years. The average life span of a worker fire ant is five weeks. Fire ant queens typically live from 2-7 years.
Odorous House Ants
As you might suspect from their name, odorous house ants give out a foul smell when they are tromped on or the safety of their nest is jeopardized. . This defensive odor is often described as a scent like that of spoiled butter. These insects like to eat dead insects and sugary sweets. They usually build their nests in or around houses. They are very social and often have thousands of members in their colonies. Odorous house ants usually live about 8 months, but the queen can live for 2-3 years.
Field ants are medium to large ants, and have a variety of colors. They construct anthills in open places. Their mounds are about 5 feet wide and 2 feet high. Field ant colonies are very social and may unite with other communities to form super colonies with hundreds of millions of ant workers. They defend their queen and their colony by biting the enemy and emitting an acidic chemical into the wound. Field ants live between 60-90 days, except for the Queen often lives for a year or more.
The answer to the question “how long do ants live?” depends on the species, the gender, and the role the ant plays in the life of the community.