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The Ant Colony

How does an ant colony start?

Here I will describe just how an ant colony starts.  There are in fact several methods of colony creation, and I will describe how a colony of Lasius niger ants is created, and will include a brief description of other methods used by British ants.
Every summer, usually around late June to early August in the UK, great flights of winged Lasius niger ants can be seen swarming outside nests, and eventually taking to the air; these are the mating flights of Lasius niger.
It is common for there to be 2 or even 3 separate mating flights during the summer, as some colonies seem not to release their winged members at the same time as many others. Regardless of that slight exception, the mating flights of ants is generally very synchronised within species.

During these mating flights the large winged queens, and smaller winged males will take to the air, following the thermal currents, and find themselves a mate. They may mate in the air with the male perched on top of the queen, or they may mate on the ground.  Once mated the queen will fly off to find a suitable nesting site, whilst the male will survive perhaps a day or two before curling up and dying; his only role in life fulfilled.  The queen may go on to mate several with more males before finding a nesting site.
©  Alex Wild
©  Alex Wild
Once the queen has landed she uses her middle and hinds legs to "unhook" her 2 pairs of wings, these will be discarded on the ground and forgotten about.  The reason why the queens do this is that the wings are of no use anymore.  She will never fly again, and the wings will only become a nuisance to her.  Sometimes the queen will not remove her wings, for whatever reason, but they will soon break off, or get chewed off by the workers.

Once she has found a suitable nesting site, the newly fertilised queen ant will urgently dig herself a tunnel leading to a small chamber.  She will seal herself within in the chamber and, unless she is forced to, she will never emerge into the sunlight again.  From this point onward her life is lived in total darkness and she will become acutely photophobic if exposed to the light henceforth.
The New Colony Begins
The new queen may lay eggs straight away, (some species do, whilst others do not,) or she may wait until the spring.  However, if she lays her eggs straight away, and the weather stays warm or mild, then the eggs will hatch within 8-10 weeks, (remember, we are discussing Lasius niger here, other species may take less or more time to develop their brood.)  
Usually, at least as far as Lasius niger are concerned, the queen will create this new nest completely on her own, though it has been known for Lasius niger queens to come together and cooperate in the raising of the first brood.   However, Lasius niger are strictly monogyne, meaning that each colony will only tolerate one parent queen.  If more than one Lasius niger queens raise brood together, they will soon fight to the death once the first workers have hatched, until only one queen remains victorious.
Whilst the Lasius niger queen is awaiting the emergence of her first workers, she will neither eat or drink on the whole, though she may eat a few of the eggs she has laid, but generally speaking she will live off the now defunct wing muscles in her thorax, which will breakdown and be converted into energy, and egg production.
The New Brood