Different Castes in Ant Colonies

Within every colony of ants, there are at least three different castes that the ants can fall into. The factors that determine what caste an ant falls into and the duties assigned to that caste are clearly defined. In some colonies, there may also be a fourth caste.

Worker

In every ant colony, the caste of worker will have the most individuals and important role in maintaining the colony. Worker ants are females hatched from fertilized eggs. Young worker ants maintain jobs inside of the nest until they are older. Ants seen foraging for food outside of a nest are an example of worker ants.

Drone

Drones are male ants that are hatched from unfertilized eggs. These ants do no work within the colony and primarily focus on reproduction. During the nuptial flight, drone ants will mate with a princess ant and then die shortly after. Though rarely seen outside of the nest, drone ants closely resemble a wasp because of their attached wings.

Queen

Queens are capable of laying thousands of eggs each day and serves as the head of a colony. After successfully mating, the fertilized queen can continue laying eggs for many years. Queen ants have been found to live as long as 25 years, during which time she will potentially lay millions of eggs. If the queen of a colony dies, the remaining colony will only last for a few months.

Soldier

Though not found in all colonies, soldier ants are identified by their long heads and visible mandible. This caste is only found in the colonies of polymorphic ant species. Soldier ants are sterile females that are utilized for their larger size. Typically, soldier ants will assist in bringing larger objects and foods back to the colony when average workers can’t.

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