Will Queens Accept Cocoons From Other Colonies?

Today we have a question for the Consult-Ant:

My little sister has recently found me (clever girl!) 4 ant queens from various places around my garden :). Being so little she can spot them a lot more easily ha ha! I have recently (cheekly) ‘robbed’ coccoons for them from a neigbouring/non-family nest and put them in with two of my ant queens. Will they hatch and fight the queens or will they adopt them?


Johnny C


Adding cocoons from nearby colonies is a great way to get a colony going quickly, but only if the cocoons are from the same species or a closely-related one. Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson talk about this on page 203 of their book The Ants.

Because the workers emerge in the new nest, they will accept the nest and the queen as their own. But once the queen starts to produce her own new workers, problems may arise. It seems that worker ants from another species apparently can recognize the newly emerged ants as different, and may attack and kill them.

The only other thing I would caution you about is being careful not to introduce parasites, mites or diseases from other colonies with the cocoons.
-The Consult-Ant

(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

Where to Find Queen Ants

Many people want to know where they can find a queen ant.

ants with alates

Here in Phoenix the ant nests are filled with alates (winged ants) ready to swarm in late July and August.

ants with alates2

In the day or so after a strong thundershower, called “monsoons” here, it is easy to find queens running across the ground looking for spots to nest.

This week I found a great place to hunt – tennis courts. As the bright overhead lights came on in the evening after a big storm the night before, the queens ants themselves started to rain down. I collected queens of three different species in ten minutes. I wasn’t too interested in the rover ant queens, but noticed they were mating right there on the tennis court. It was amazing.

Unfortunately my tennis buddies were not as thrilled as I was, so I didn’t get a chance to observe as much as I would have liked. You can guess where I’ll hanging out be next time it rains.

Ever found queen ants attracted to the big lights at sporting events?

Question 13. Replacing Queen Ants

13)  If a colony with only one queen ant were to die, would she be replaced with another? Or does the colony die out. If she gets replaced, then are there always alates available to replace her at any time? Or are they only produced prior for the mating season, nuptial flight, and etc.? Is there any way of the colony knowing that the queen is about to expire, like some kind of special pheromone?

Mike, you’ve taken us on quite an adventure with your questions. It’s been a fun learning experience for me to dig up the answers for the ones I didn’t know about. If you have any more questions, or you’d like clarification about anything, feel free to ask.

As for the ability of ant colonies to replace their queens, this is a topic that comes up often.

For many temperate ant species with a single queen, the answer is that once the queen dies, the colony is a goner. The worker ants will not accept one of their sisters as a new queen, workers can not become a new queen themselves, nor can they raise a new queen like honey bees do. Some worker ants can produce eggs once the queen has died, but those eggs are unfertilized and will become males.

That said, there are a number of ant species that don’t fit the norm. In species like the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, colonies have many queens, and the males and queens mate right inside the nest. Having many queens allows the colonies to become large quickly. In fact, one problem with Argentine ants is that when they are introduced to places they have never been before, they form such large colonies that they can quickly overwhelm or drive out many native ants, even ants much bigger than themselves. Argentine ants proved to be hugely successful at spreading and are now found almost worldwide.

Another strategy is found in the ponerines that don’t have a distinct, physically different queen. In those species, the egg-laying individual is called a gamergate. When one gamergate dies, the next high-ranking worker takes over laying eggs. Hoelldobler and Wilson discuss this in detail in their book, Superorganism.

Most ants colonies have distinct periods or seasons when the reproductives are produced, but that will vary from species to species and even somewhat from year to year, due to differences in environmental triggers, amount of food, age of the queen, etc.

Finally, the queen probably won’t give off a specific signal that she is weak (it wouldn’t be to her benefit), but there might be a decrease in the pheromone(s) she produces to attract the workers and keep them from producing eggs.

By the way, you might be interested to know that researchers recently synthesized the pheromone of the queen black garden ant and were able to show that it does suppress the ovaries and egg-laying ability of worker ants. See:  University of Copenhagen (2010, July 14). Elusive ant queen pheromone tracked down. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/06/100630101016.htm

For more information on ant queens, see a previous post answering questions about ant queen development.

If anyone has more information about this they’d like to share, please let us know.

Can a worker ant become a queen?

I have an ant question!

I have an ant farm with Little Black ants but not a queen. can one of the ants become a queen?



I’m afraid once an ant becomes an adult ant, it can no longer change form or shape. It can’t shed its skin or grow.

Adult worker black ants can not become queens, and the worker ants can not lay eggs that will become queens either.

There are a few types of ants where special workers become “queens,” but those ants are much more like wasps, and you wouldn’t want to keep them in a regular ant farm. If you’d like a more detailed explanation, check the ant queen development post.

How are your little black ants doing? I hope they are doing well.