Tiny Lives, Surprising Longevity: How Long Do Ants Live?

If you have an ant problem in your home, it might seem like these little critters can live forever. But can they? The truth is, they live between a few days and several years, but a lot of factors go into how long an ant lives.

By Pest Advisor Editors (Updated on Aug 17, 2023)

Fact Checked by Jason Chapman

Tiny Lives, Surprising Longevity: How Long Do Ants Live? photo

Did you know that some ants can live for years, while others can live for multiple years? There’s not one solid answer to “how long do ants live?” because different species and castes have different lifespans. In addition, environmental factors play a part. If you’re interested in the lifespan of ants, here are some topics you might be curious about:

  • The development phases of ants
  • The lifespans of worker and warrior ants
  • How long the queen ant lives
  • Different factors that affect longevity of ants

Let’s learn more about these fascinating creatures and how long they live.

The Developmental Phases of an Ant’s Life

Ants go through four distinct phases of life, and it all starts when the queen ant, who is the central reproducing female of the colony, lays eggs. These are tiny and oval-shaped, and they’re well-protected by the worker ants assigned to the nursery. This phase can last between a few days to a few weeks, depending on the species, and when the egg is ready, it hatch into a larva.

Ant larvae are baby ants, and they don’t look much like ants at all. The worker ants continue to care for them by regurgitating their food to feed them. Worker ants will also scavenge for food for these quickly growing babies. As they grow, the larvae will shed their skins, or molt. This phase lasts only about a week, sometimes two, depending on the species.

When they’ve grown enough, these larvae will turn into pupas. They transform into a cocoon-like structure, much as a caterpillar does before it turns into a butterfly. They’ll remain in this passive pupal stage for between one week and one month, and when they’re ready to emerge, they’ll be fully adult ants.

How Long the Different Castes Live

During the pupal stage, the ant will develop internal systems that will tell it whether it’s a worker, soldier, or queen ant. Most of the male ants will become soldiers, sometimes called warriors. And most of the females will become workers; these ants hatch without wings. A few females will be ready to be queen ants; they’ll be born with wings.

Soldier ants act as warriors or defense. They will also mate with the queen. These ants only live from a few days to a few weeks, and they will die shortly after mating.

Worker ants are sterile females. They can live for several years, between five and seven if they are able to avoid predators and other dangers. The exception would be if the queen were to die; worker ants will die off fairly quickly, within weeks to months, if the queen dies.

A healthy queen can live for 15 years or even more, assuming she’s well taken care of and protected from predators. In captivity, some queens have even lived for over 20 years. Her primary role is to lay eggs and ensure the longevity of the colony, so the worker and soldier ants will do what it takes to protect her.

Factors That Affect Ant Longevity

There are a lot of factors that can affect the longevity of an individual ant as well as that of a colony. Here are some of them:

  • Temperature and humidity. Ants are cold-blooded, so the outside temperature affects their body temperatures and metabolisms. In warmer climates, ants can have a higher metabolism, which leads to a shorter lifespan, while in cooler climates, their metabolism can slow down, leading to a longer life. Humidity is beneficial to ants and can help them enjoy longer lives, while dry or arid climates can lead to dehydration and shorten their lives.
  • Food availability. Access to a consistent diet is, of course, necessary to keep the colony living a long, healthy life. Ants forage and aren’t generally picky eaters, so if the environment has organic material, it’s likely the ants will be well-fed. On the other hand, if there is a food shortage, the ants might die out, particularly in the winter when resources in most places aren’t bountiful.
  • Predators. Ants build intricate nests under the ground, and this keeps them safe from many predators. If they do encounter a predator, though, it’s possible the whole colony can suffer a great loss, even if the whole thing isn’t lost. Humans are considered a predator and can wipe out nests indoors and outdoors with chemicals and other extermination/control methods.
  • Nest quality. The quality of an ant nest can make or break their lifespans. If the nest isn’t well-constructed and doesn’t provide shelter from weather or doesn’t protect from predators, that will negatively impact the colony’s lifespan. On the other hand, ants that have well-built, sturdy nests are likely to have longer lives.

When thinking about ant lifespans, it’s important to understand that these are all averages, and that different species have various lengths of life. In addition, the factors listed can have small or large impacts on their longevity. If you’re dealing with ants in your house, you probably aren’t going to be able to wait out a colony, so it’s important to get on top of your ant removal methods sooner rather than later.

Citations and Credits

Featured image by Salmen Bejaoui / Unsplash

Article image by Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

Article image by Maksim Shutov / Unsplash

Article image by ATMDepot / Pixabay

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