How long do they live?  Bare with me a minute here and hopefully you’ll understand why ants made this list. Worker ants live approximately 1-2 years and male ants live only a week or two, but queens can reach or even exceed 28 years [1]. Another odd finding is that the expression of superoxide dismutase 1 is decreased in queen and worker ants compared to males. This is strange because overexpression of the enzyme superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) actually increases the lifespan of fruit flies [3]

Where are they found? That would be pretty much everywhere. Here’s a picture. They’re found in the black regions, which I can only assume is because the ants are black, but honestly the picture looks a bit ominous. Lasius_niger_Distribution

What do they eat? Everything, they’re ants! They prefer ripe fruit, insects, your sandwich, and breaking into your home through unknown spaces to steal whatever crumbs you left in your sink (I’m not bitter).

What do they look like? Well, like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Worker ants with eggs.
Lasius Niger (winged queen)
Winged queen.

When males and the female queen mates, they are winged. Once the female mates with the males she will  lose her wings, then dig a tunnel to lay some eggs in and live a really long time. The males, on the other hand, mate and die within a few days.

How do they reproduce? This is where things get weird. The queen has sex with multiple males during that winged mating ritual, but that’s it, she never mates again. She stores sperm inside of her and fertilizes her eggs depending on what sex she wants her offspring to be. Fertilized eggs produce worker female ants, whereas the unfertilized eggs develop into males [4]. In all honesty, ant reproduction is fascinating, but not the point of this website, so I will move on now. By the way, those males that die quickly also have shorter telomeres than the queens and the workers [5].

How do scientists know how old they are? Well, luckily there are scientists that have kept ants in captivity and measured their lifespans firsthand [6].

So what are we lacking? There are still a lot of questions about the differences in SOD1 expression and telomere length in these ants. There’s information regarding the nuclear genome of Lasius niger on NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) .

Please contact me if you have information that will add to the understanding of ant longevity.

  1. Hölldobler, Bert, and Edward O. Wilson. The ants. Harvard University Press, 1990.
  2. Graeff, Johannes, et al. “Differential gene expression between adult queens and workers in the ant Lasius niger.” Molecular Ecology 16.3 (2007): 675-683.
  3. Parker, Joel D., et al. “Decreased expression of Cu–Zn superoxide dismutase 1 in ants with extreme lifespan.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101.10 (2004): 3486-3489.
  4. Ants – Mating, Reproduction, And Life Span – Queen, Queens, Workers, and Colony – JRank Articles http://science.jrank.org/pages/447/Ants-Mating-reproduction-life-span.html#ixzz4INaFunj5
  5. Jemielity, Stephanie, et al. “Short telomeres in short‐lived males: what are the molecular and evolutionary causes?.” Aging cell 6.2 (2007): 225-233.
  6. Kutter, H. & R. Stumper. 1969. Hermann Appel, ein leidgeadelter entomologe (1892-1966). Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of the International Union for The Study of Social Insects (Bern), pp. 275-279.