Colonies will often combine during the winter and separate again in the summer. During mid summer – late Autumn, swarms of winged males and females of many species take off on nuptial flights. As the Ants fall to the ground they shed their wings and crawl off in search of locations for the establishment of new colonies. Excavating
a cavity below stones or trees, the new Queen lays her eggs tending them through the larvae and pupae stages. Eventually, as the new workers emerge, the Queen is relieved of all her labour duties and becomes an egg-laying machine, supported totally by the new workers.
Egg – Larva 12-60 days
Larva – Pupa 11-60 days
Pupa – Adult 10-25 days
Minimum period egg-adult is 30 days, sometimes delayed for up to 4-5 months
Many thousands of Ant species exist world-wide. Only 20 or 30 species are recorded as NZ native. Of 7 – 8 imported species, the Darwin Ant is the most common and troublesome in NZ households.
NZ’s latest import, Darwin Ant ( Iridomyrymex Darwinianus ), arrived in
Lyttleton from Australia in the early 1970s and is now well established throughout Christchurch. This annoying pest is 2 mm long and medium dark brown in colour, gives off a musty, greasy odour.
Colonies can be very large and complex, with numbers ranging from just a few
dozen through to many thousands. The number of Queens in a colony can vary from 1 to several hundred. Winged females and workers of some species can bite and sting, causing considerable pain.
Constantly working, workers duties are to continually extend the nest, forage for food, feed the Queen and brood, attend to the colony hygiene, defend the colony when danger threatens and transport the eggs, larvae, pupae and Queens to deeper galleries or another site if necessary.
Some species cultivate and farm fungi, grown in compost composed of leaf fragments and insect excreta; milk aphids and mealybugs for honeydew; collect fluids excreted from caterpillars; gather and store seeds for the Winter. Ants can carry items many times their own size and weight over considerable distances.
Foraging distances of up to 100 metres are common, which is the equivalent of a 2
metre tall person commuting 8 miles just for food. Ant diets and food preferences can be as varied as the Ant species themselves. Diets also change along with the seasons and the weather.
Carbohydrate, protein and vegetation feeders, Ant menu’s include: sugar, jam, honey, confectionery, fruit leaves, plants, flowers, vegetables and the remains of animals, birds and other dead insects.
Migrations normally take place when a good source gets low. Nest locations are varied and are often found in or below logs, foliage, stones, soil, concrete, walls, buildings, garden vegetation, and both in wet and dry situations.
Most species follow chemical marker trails laid by other Ants returning from a food
source. These trails are main highways for Ants and are often seen in gardens and kitchens
Ants are not formally recognised as being vectors of disease, although their foraging habits around dumps and drains would appear to suggest otherwise. Ants, along with Bees, Wasps and Termites, are among the higher order of social insects, which are totally dependant on each other for their basic survival.