An ant colony typically is made up of several chambers, connected by tunnels. Ant colonies are quite impressive when you consider the worker ants are the ones digging and constructing these tunnels and chambers. As they dig, they deposit the extra dirt on the surface of the ground. This is what develops an anthill, which is often visible.

Operation of an Ant Colony

How Ant Colonies Work
Image via Flickr by jurvetson

The exact layout and function of the ant colony influences the way it operates. Every room within the colony serves a purpose. Some rooms are used by the ants for storing food that is brought back to the colony by the worker ants, while others are set aside as nurseries to care for larvae. The colony might even have a special room for mating. The ants can move throughout the rooms as needed.

How a Colony Is Formed

When an ant queen mates with one or more males, a colony begins. The queen forms a nest where she can care for her young. The first brood from a queen ant will include worker ants, which are necessary for creating and building the colony. Worker ants are females with no wings. Only the ant queen has wings, and she uses those to fly and find mates. Upon mating, she will shed her wings, as she won’t need them anymore. The tissue of the wings is used to feed her first young.

When the queen’s workers are old enough to begin working, they will help enlarge the nest and dig the tunnels and chambers so the colony can expand. The worker ants will also bring food for the queen. Her only job is to continue laying eggs and having more young. As the number of worker ants within the colony continues to increase, they will split and take on different tasks. For example, one group of worker ants might work all night to dig new tunnels, while others focus on finding and bringing food to the queen. Another group of worker ants might help take care of the larvae.

When the colony gets even larger, it will include more queens that can mate with males. These new queens will either fly away to find their own mates and establish their own colonies or they will take over for the current queen within the colony.

Colony Size

The size of an ant colony can vary widely. Some are small and have only about 50 ants within them, although this can change as soon as the queen mates and produces more eggs. A super colony located in Japan contains as many as 300 million ants.

Ants work together to form colonies and protect themselves from the dangers that lurk above the ground. These insects also take on their own roles to build and improve the colony for those that live within it. Most ant colonies are built beneath the ground, although some species of ants will form colonies within rotted wood or beneath the flooring in a home.