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Ants are insects that undergo a complete metamorphosis. Ants begin life as eggs. Fertilised eggs develop into females; those that are not develop into males.

An egg hatches into a barely mobile larva, which goes through a series of moults before becoming a pupa. From the pupa emerges the adult ant.

Whether a female ant becomes a worker or a queen as an adult is determined by mixture of genetic influence, by the nutrition the larvae obtain and by the control of gene expression in the developmental environment. Queens of some species mate with just one male, but in others they may mate with anywhere from one to a dozen different males.

A male ant is known as a drone and is always winged in its adult forms. Males only emerge to mate during the nuptial flight where they secrete a mating pheromone that females follow.

Mated females then seek a suitable place to start a colony. There, they break off their wings and begin to lay and care for eggs. The females store the sperm they obtain during their nuptial flight to selectively fertilise future eggs.

Tags: Morphology & Physiology

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