Around 7 billion people live on the earth, but would you believe that there are more ants? Of the over 13,000 species, ants outnumber humans by billions. Despite beating us in numbers, these tiny pests aren’t known to stick around for very long.
Ants are often grouped together as a uniform species, but different ants have quirks that set them apart. The life of one ant does not closely mirror the existence of another despite similarities in colony structures. Some ants can even live years longer than other ant species.
Understanding an ant’s lifespan can tell us how to control their populations and what long-living species could cause the most damage when left unchecked. Take a look at this guide as we answer the big question: How long do ants live?
While ants are an important part of any ecosystem, they can invade homes, destroy crops, or become a dangerous addition to your backyard. Through pesticides, many species have their lives cut short to lessen the impact of their destruction.
No ant species is the same. Some can survive for months at a time, while others will die weeks after maturing. However, most ants follow the same initial life-cycle process, even if the time for each phase varies.
All insects either experience incomplete or complete metamorphosis. During incomplete metamorphosis, insects hatch from an egg and spend the early stages of their lives as nymphs. Insects then slowly transform into adults, retaining a similar appearance to their nymph forms.
Complete metamorphosis is much different and is instead split into four stages:
Ants begin their lives as larvae after hatching from eggs. As larvae, they can spend around two weeks rapidly growing and feeding. Following this, ants will begin to develop their adult appendages in the pupa phase.
Here, the ants typically remain sedentary as they enter the final stages of metamorphosis. During this stage, some ant species are wrapped in tight cocoons, but others will forgo the covering entirely. Following their change, ants emerge as adults and start working to support the colony.
It can take around two months for an ant to grow into an adult, but the time for this process isn't consistent. For example, a carpenter ant’s life cycle can take anywhere from two to three months.
There isn’t a clear answer to how long ants live. An ant’s lifespan primarily hinges on its species and its role in the colony. Queens typically last longer than any other members of the brood, but some boast long-lasting reigns.
Male drones can’t live more than a few days or weeks. After concluding metamorphosis, their primary goal is mating with queens that are destined to create new colonies. During ants' mating season in spring and fall, male drones fly out to breed, so don’t be alarmed if you see a flying ant nearby.
After finding a fertile female ant, the drones will mate and die soon after completing their purpose. The new queens will then search for a suitable area to lay eggs and establish a colony. Queen ants do not typically mate after this initial experience and can continue to produce young from this one mating encounter.
Unlike the male members of their colony, worker ants stick around for much longer. Thousands of infertile female ants make up a colony’s population. In fact, almost all of the ants you see are these worker ants. Queens never venture out of the nest, and you will only spot a male drone during mating season.
Worker ants spend most of their time within the anthill. They focus their attention on maintaining the colony and tending to the queen. You can see them foraging outside or looking indoors for some food. Workers also protect the colony from any intruders. If you accidentally step on an ant mound, they will quickly come out to greet you.
Photo by Andre Moura from Pexels
The lifespan for worker ants heavily varies. Some worker ants can stay around for years while others live a handful of weeks. Most fire ants only survive about four to five weeks, while odorous house ants can live a few months. An ant’s life span largely hinges on the species and their living conditions.
Queen ants live much longer, no matter the ant species. While this differs depending on the type of ant and other environmental factors, some queens can live over two decades. The black garden ant has had queens live for almost thirty years within a controlled environment!
Other queens aren’t as lucky. Odorous house ant queens won’t typically last longer than a year, and these ants are often subject to pesticides which cut their lives even shorter. Many long-living species have had their existence closely monitored, so your average anthill probably hasn’t stuck around more than a few months.
Some species have longer lifespans that explain their longevity, while others can thrive in the right conditions. Queens naturally live longer as the workers provide constant care as she lays eggs. However, most ants won’t survive many years, especially in environments shared with humans.
In rare cases, ants can outlive their typical lifespans, with some worker ants even rivaling their queens. The European Temnothorax nylanderi worker ants can live significantly longer when infected with a tapeworm, according to a report published in the academic journal Royal Society Open Science.
While other worker ants die after a few months, some infected ants can live almost three years. These ants often receive more attention than the queen and will do nothing while the other worker ants care for them. Despite extending their lifespan, the parasite negatively affects the colony because it lacks the aid of the infected ants.
However, you don’t have to worry about an infestation living in your yard for years. Even the longest-lasting queens won’t stand a chance against quality pest control. Our general pest control service can take care of your insect problems, with a year warranty included to knock out any stubborn infestations.