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Mating frenzies, sperm hoards, and brood raids: The life of a fire ant queen - Walter R. Tschinkel


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In the spring, just after a heavy rainfall, male and female fire ants swarm the skies for a day of romance, known as the nuptial flight. Thousands of reproduction-capable ants take part in a mating frenzy, and for one successfully mated female, her work is only beginning. Walter R. Tschinkel details how the new queen builds a colony and protects it from neighboring ant armies.

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Fire ant colonies reproduce themselves by sending out winged, sexually competent males and females to take part in mating flights, whereafter females start new colonies alone in a risky and extremely demanding process. Colonies that survive the founding stage engage in an intense competition with neighboring newly-founded colonies.

The Fire Ants, by W.R. Tschinkel (Harvard/Belknap Press, 2006), Chapters 10, 11, 12.

Identifying queen ants:

Ant biology, generally:

Like our fire ant queen, many ant queens metabolize specifically laid-down body reserves, such as unfertilized eggs. This version is known as the derived version. However, other ant queens forge for food, prior to laying their eggs, so that their larvae can sustain themselves. This version is known as the primitive version. Check out this research article on the different strategies ant queens use to lay feed themselves and their brood.

Ants didn’t always use the same strategies to start their colonies. Check out this research article exploring the evolution of colony founding strategies used by ants.

How are fire ants capable of building towers to protect themselves, and their fire ant queen from floods? Check out this Vox piece on the physics of the fire ant bodies.

Interested in exploring the colonies of different ants? Check out this blog by Entomologist Roberta Gibson

In different ant colonies, Azteca ants have a mutualistic relationship fungi. These ants use fungi as a source for food, building materials and trapping their prey. Check out this article to learn how the fungiculture starts in a Azteca ant’s colony.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Walter Tschinkel
  • Director Lisa Vertudaches
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Storyboard Artist Lisa Vertudaches
  • Animator Lisa Vertudaches
  • Compositor Lisa Vertudaches
  • Art Director Lisa Vertudaches
  • Sound Designer Phil Brookes
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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