Why Are There No “King” Ants?
Ants live in a matriarchal society led by a queen and sustained by female workers. Think of it as the sisterhood of the traveling ants. The queen is all-mighty and powerful. After mating only once, she can lay thousands of eggs during her 2- to 20-year lifespan. The queen choses the sex and status of her eggs. When more female workers are needed, she produces eggs that produce sterile females. If new queens are necessary to expand the colony, the queen lays eggs which are fed more than food during the larval stage and become fertile females.
Pity the poor male ant. Not only are there no kings among ants, males are the most expendable creatures in the colony. They are born with wings and they have only one purpose in life. When a queen needs to mate, she takes to the air on what is whimsically called the nuptial flight. The queen releases pheromones to attract male ants. Driven mad by their single mission, the males chase after the queen and clamor over one another to mate with her. And the payoff for the winners? After short and ferocious sex, the males die when their genitalia detonates inside the queen. The queen is now filled with millions of fertilized eggs, enough to last her a lifetime.
So, if there was such a thing as a king ant, what would it do? Order workers to bring it food and fertile females? Have the worker ants build it a man cave? Drink fermented honey and watch other males battle to the death? While that might work for some species, there’s no place in the ant world for the whims of a king.
Ants are programmed to work together to build massive colonies, expand their populations and, presumably, rule the world with their quadrillions of minions. And they don’t need a king to do it. So while it may be good to be king in our world, the queens are thing in the ant kingdom. Or should I say queendom?