No sex please

Once upon a time, if there was something that could be taken for granted about ants, it was that reproduction depends on mating, that is, sex. Admittedly, males come from unfertilized eggs but against that, all females have a father from whom they receive half of their genome. However, ants are full of surprises and though most species do in fact follow the norm, there is at least one that contradicts it. This is Cataglyphis cursor, whose queens behave with reckless abandon, sometimes using...

Sperm bank

Once fertilized, the young female goes on her way she pulls off her own wings for which she has no further use as she will never mate again. The sperm acquired during her mating flight she keeps in an oval pouch located in her abdomen, known as a spermatheca. In this way, she accumulates a stock of several hundred thousand spermatozoa, sometimes even several million, in a dormant state. For the rest of her life, she will draw upon them to fertilize her ova, eventually giving birth to offspring...

Several million daughters

All that said, the simplest family structures are still those of monogynous ants, in which a single queen reigns over a numberless profusion of daughters colonies of army ants, for instance, can contain, at any given time, several million workers. What this means, of course, is that over her lifetime a mother ant may give birth to several million daughters. However, quite a few species which were once thought to be monogynous have turned out to be polygynous. A case in point is Pheidole, whose...

From the underworld to the top of the world

This diversity of ants' appearance and morphology is matched by a wide variation in their ways of life and habitats. There are huge disparities in their housing arrangements, as the French entomologist Pierre-Andre Latreille observed as long ago as the late eighteenth century 'The dwellings of ants are as different from one another as the Louvre is from the hut of the Laplander.' Most species do what the southern wood ants of Europe's forests do they set up house on dry land. In the tropics,...