What They Look Like
Anyone who has accidentally disturbed a fire ant mound has see workers running around carrying tiny white things. Most people call the white things “fire ant eggs”. Some of them actually are fire ant eggs, but some of them could be immature ants in other stages of development.
Stages of Growth
The fire ants go through three immature stages before they become adult ants. The three stages are:
After these stages, the ant is an adult. This process of development is called complete metamorphosis.
Queen Produces Eggs
The fire ant queen lives about seven years. During that time she produces thousands of eggs. Fire ant eggs are small and whitish in color. The workers stack the eggs in a separate area to keep them safe. As the eggs develop, the workers clean them so that bacteria cannot damage them.
Male vs Female
The queen determines whether fire ant eggs will develop into female or male ants. The queen can fertilize the eggs as she produces them. If the eggs are not fertilized, they will develop into male ants. If the eggs are fertilized, they will develop into female ants.
The eggs that will become female ants can develop into sterile workers or reproductive future queens. The queen produces a scent called a pheromone. The queen uses this pheromone to regulate the development of the female ants. The temperature is also a factor in their development.
When the fire ant eggs hatch, the immature ants are in the larva stage of their life. Larvae are small and white. Fire ant larvae look like grubs. They cannot walk or feed themselves. The workers feed the larvae and care for them as they grow.
When the larvae are ready to change into adults, the workers move them to a secure area. The changing process is called the pupa stage of the ant’s life. When the new adults are ready to shed their skin and emerge the workers help by removing the old skin.
Workers Protect the Eggs
During the day, the workers in a fire ant colony move the queen and the immature ants up and down inside the nest as the temperature changes. At any particular moment, hundreds of eggs, larvae, and pupae could be in the top of the nest. When the mound is disturbed, workers run to safety carrying the immature ants with them.
When the mound is disturbed, some of the workers rush out to defend the colony. People who disturb a fire ant mound face a very great risk of being bitten and stung. It is much safer to observe the fire ant workers carrying the tiny white immature ants from a safe distance…even though from a distance it is difficult to distinguish the eggs from the larvae and the pupae.