Ant colony founding

Ant colonies. They all start somewhere. With the thousands upon thousands of species there are so many different ways that these colonies start off. I will be upfront, this will probably have a second part. I will probably get carried away and make a post several thousand words long. And nobody wants that. So let us begin now and maybe finish another day.

We will start with a quick recap of the process I used as my example in our post ‘Colony life cycle Part 1: The basics.’ Males and females leave the nests, mate and the queens go on to form colonies on their own, with 1 queen per colony. This is called Monogyny. In ant speak, a gyne is a queen. Knowledge: Achieved. A species that found a colony alone and not feeding in the process is called a Claustral species. They remain in the nest and don’t leave. The workers will be the first individuals to leave the nest. A great example of this sort of species is Lasius niger, the black garden ant.

A winged Lasius niger queen (Rosemary Winnall).

Now if you are like me, not eating and surviving on your back muscles for months in a cold, dark hole isn’t all that appealing. I know, I am weird like that. Many species of ants also agree and feed while founding their colonies. These species are Semi-Claustral. The queen will leave the nest in search of food. This is dangerous as she is vulnerable to predators but she has the added benefit of not slowly starving to death. Also the brood will get food so the first workers will be stronger, larger and more capable. Both strategies have benefits. Claustral and Semi-Claustral species are usually easy to distinguish as claustral queens are often larger to store their fat reserves. An example of a Semi-Claustral species would be Myrmecia sp, Bull ants. Below is a picture of a bull ant queen. Although she is much larger, notice the thinner thorax.

A winged Bull ant queen, Myrmecia sp (Ypna).

Ants are all but defined by the phrase “Strength in numbers” so queens founding colonies by themselves seem a bit out of character. There are many species in which the queens work together to found a colony. These queens work together to lay eggs and care for them. Now these species can be both Claustral or Semi-claustral so they can also share the burden of foraging. Many species that found colonies with multiple queens don’t stay this way. Game of Thrones nonsense occurs. The queens bully each other and compete for dominance over the others. When the first workers emerge, they begin to detect who is the strongest, most dominant queen. The weaker queens are slowly killed off one by one until one remains. This is called Pleometrosis. This method of colony founding probably results in the most smug queens in the world as they out live their fellow founders. An example of a genus that exhibits pleometrosis are Azteca. As they live in trees they rely on for their survival, many queens founding a single colony means they can monopolise the tree they are in and remove any other founding colonies. Once this is done the extra queens are useless and are killed.

An Azteca isthmica Queen founding her colony within a plant. There may be others helping her (Alex Wild).

These are just some of the ways colonies are founded. We will cover more in the future as this post would be way too long! I have added a poll to our Facebook page to get a sense for the future of the site. Please join and share your opinions! I hope you enjoyed,



Monogyny: Colonies containing single Queens.

Gyne: A member of the female reproductive caste.

Claustral: The Queen(s) found their colonies by sealing themselves in a founding chamber and not leaving.

Semi-Claustral: The Queen(s) found their colonies by sealing themselves in a founding chamber and leave to forage for food.

Pleometrosis: Multiple Queens found the colony and are then slowly killed off until one remains.


Brown, M.J. and Bonhoeffer, S., 2003. On the evolution of claustral colony founding in ants. Evolutionary ecology research5(2), pp.305-313.

Haskins, C.P. and Haskins, E.F., 1980. Notes on female and worker survivorship in the archaic ant genus Myrmecia. Insectes Sociaux27(4), pp.345-350.

Hölldobler, B. and Wilson, E.O., 1990. The ants. Harvard University Press.

Johnson, R.A., 2002. Semi-claustral colony founding in the seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus: a comparative analysis of colony founding strategies. Oecologia132(1), pp.60-67.

Tschinkel, W.R. and Howard, D.F., 1983. Colony founding by pleometrosis in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology12(2), pp.103-113.

Van der Have, T.M., Boomsma, J.J. and Menken, S.B.J., 1988. Sex‐investment ratios and relatedness in the monogynous ant Lasius niger (L.). Evolution42(1), pp.160-172.

Weng, J.L., Nishida, K., Hanson, P. and LaPierre, L., 2007. Biology of Lissoderes Champion (Coleoptera, Curculionidae) in Cecropia saplings inhabited by Azteca ants. Journal of Natural History41(25-28), pp.1679-1695.

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