The life cycle of an ant has four distinct and very different life stages: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. This process is known as complete metamorphosis. It generally takes from several weeks to several months to complete the life cycle, depending upon the ant species and environmental factors.

A female reproductive ant that successfully mates with a male ant will become a queen ant that lays eggs. The fertile queen will then select a sheltered place to begin a nest (colony) and before starting to lay eggs. Ant eggs are oval in shape, white and transparent in colour and normally very small, measuring only about a half of a millimetre in diameter. This egg stage usually lasts approximately 1-2 weeks.

Ant larvae emerge from the egg stage legless and grub-like in appearance. The ant larvae have an insatiable appetite, so the adult ants spend much of their time feeding the larvae with food and liquids they digest and regurgitate. The larvae will eventually moult and shed their skin to transform into the pupal stage.

Initially, ant pupae are usually white, but slowly become darker in colour as they age. The pupae look somewhat like adults, however their legs and antennae are folded and pressed against the pupal body. Depending upon the ant species, pupae may be housed in a protective cocoon. Once the pupal stage is complete, the adult ant emerges.

Adult ants are fully grown at the time of emergence, but will darken in colour with age. An adult ant will be one of three different colony castes; queens, workers or males. Queens are fertile females that lay all the eggs in a colony. Workers are females that do not reproduce, but do gather food; feed the larvae; and maintain and clean the nest. Workers are wingless, and it is the worker stage that is seen foraging around for food or defending the colony from intruders. The male ants are winged, but their only job is to mate with the queens during the swarming process.

Fig. a typical myrmicine ant in side view with the major structures labeled.
Fig. a typical myrmicine ant in side view with the major structures labeled.

Besides being a general nuisance ants become a seriously pesky pest when they bite.

Read Next: Ants that Bite