Life in a Fire Ant Family: Queens

Imported Fire Ants April 30, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

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Close-up of a fire ant queen.
Click to enlarge image.

Imported fire ants are very complex. Some colonies of fire ants have only one queen, but there are other colonies that have a many queens. Would you believe that a multiple queen colony can have as many as one thousand queens?

The new fire ant queen excavates a brood cell (chamber or room) about 1 or 2 inches (25 to 50 mm) underground. Often, more than one new queen will occupy the same cell, but only one will survive to establish a monogynous (single queen) colony. However, in some parts of the country, including Texas, most colonies are polygynous (many queens), and more than one queen may survive and occupy a cell.

A fire ant queen does not forage for food.  Instead she relies on fat reserves and the energy acquired from absorbing her wing muscles to survive until her first workers are ready to take on the task of colony maintenance. At first, the new queen will oviposit (lay) 10 to 15 eggs. These eggs hatch into larvae in 7 to 10 days and are fed by the queen through trophallaxis, which is the mouth-to-mouth exchange of foods, as when a mother bird feeds her babies. In 6 to 10 days, the larvae pupate, and 10 to 15 days later they emerge. Watch the trophallaxis video.

These newly emerged workers, called minims, are tiny because of the limited amount of energy the queen can devote to their development. These small workers open the brood cell to the outside world and begin foraging for food to feed the queen.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.