The queen ant at the Natural History Museum has died leaving her colony behind.
The colony of leafcutter ants (Atta cephalotes ) is a living exhibit in the Creepy Crawlies gallery at the Museum and visitors to the website can watch the ants through the live Antcam.
The queen ant is crucial to the colony and she can lay up to 30,000 eggs every day. Now the queen has died, there are no young to replace the ants that die naturally, so the colony will eventually die out.
Workers and soldiers
The worker and soldier ants 'serve' the queen and the colony by collecting food, tending the young and building the nest.
The ants left behind are probably now dismantling the nest and may only survive for a few weeks longer.
Three colonies in ten years
In the last ten years the Museum has had to replace the queen and colony three times so will soon be making preparations for the next one. 'It surprises me that we have such a turnover of queens and why the colony does not produce its own new queens,' said Stuart Hine, insect expert at the Natural History Museum.
Typically, ant colonies produce queens and males annually, and the mated queens disperse to create new colonies with other queens staying on to form a super colony.
9-year-old worker ants
Sir John Lubbock, a Victorian entomologist, published many observations on ant colonies in the 1880s, based on his own 'antariums' containing common species of British ants. Stuart Hine adds, ‘Sir Lubbock found out that there were many different jobs that worker ants performed and interestingly some of his worker ants lived for over 9 years. ‘