How Long Do Ants Live?

Updated on December 8, 2018
How Long Do Ants Live?
How Long Do Ants Live? | Source

A Closer Look into the Most Common Ant Species' Lifespan

It's hard to find a simple answer to the question, How long do ants live? It could depend on caste, habitat, diet, and a lot of other factors that differ from one species to another.

You can count on your one hand the number of places in the world where ants aren't naturally found. Ants have been around for at least 100 million years, and to this day there are at least 12,000 different ant species. In this article, you'd learn first and foremost about the lifespan of each of these species, as well as some interesting facts about their life cycles, diets, behavior and so much more.

The Lifespan of the Most Common Ant Species

Of the thousands of ant species known to man, the following are some of the most common:

  • Carpenter ants
  • Odorous house ants
  • Pavement ants
  • Black garden ants
  • Ghost ants
  • Fire ants, and
  • Pharaoh ants

Carpenter Ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) : This type of ant got their name because of their preference to live in galleries of wood. A carpenter ant's life cycle begins when a winged male carpenter ant mates with a winged female carpenter ant. This usually happens during late spring, but environmental factors could postpone their mating season to as late as early summer. The winged females then shed their wings while the winged males die.

Typically, a carpenter ant colony would only have one queen, with many satellite colonies surrounding the primary one. It would take up to 6 years for a carpenter ant colony to be fully established. To start her colony, the queen would lay her first batch of eggs. But because this first batch of ants isn't ready to forage for food just yet, the queen ant would use her fat reserves to provide for her brood.

In the case of the carpenter ant, it would take around 1.5 to 3 months to reach adulthood. However, during colder seasons, it could take them up to 10 months to go from egg to adult. Queens can live up to 10 years, and female workers can live up to 7 years, but males die soon after mating.

Their diet consists of insect parts and tissues, honeydew and extra-floral nectar. Worker ants grow to about half an inch, while the queens could grow up to an inch. They are generally not aggressive.

A year or two after the colony has been established, the queen ant will start laying winged carpenter ant eggs. When mating season rolls in, these winged carpenter ants will start the process of mating and establishing their own colonies soon after.


Most species of ants reproduce through what is known as a nuptial flight, where winged females get their eggs fertilized by winged males. However, some species of female ants like the Cataglyphis cursor, reproduce asexually by cloning, which means that all of her offspring will be female like herself!

Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile)

Odorous house ants are found in a variety of habitats. They can live in forests, grasslands and savannas, but they build nests in suburban habitats too. They are so called odorous house ants due to the fact that, when crushed, they give off a distinct rotten coconut smell. This is also the reason why they're sometimes called coconut ants.

A queen odorous house ant can live up to a year or more. Worker odorous house ants have about the same lifespan. Males, on the other hand, die a week or so after mating. Odorous house ant eggs are laid in mid-spring to mid-fall. If they hatch on spring season, it would take them 5 to 9 weeks to become adults. If they hatch on a summer, it would only take them 6 to 7 weeks. Any later than this and they would spend the winter in their eggs, completing their development in about half a year. An indoor nest or colony provides warmer temperatures though, and are known to house queens that lay eggs all year round.

In their natural habitat, odorous house ant colonies will usually have one queen per colony. On the other hand, they are known to band together and form super-colonies with multiple queens per nest.

Their diet consists of honeydew, tree sap, small insects and nectar. In an urban habitat, they are well known to be opportunistic foragers who would go for both sweet and non-sweet human food.

The Lifespan of the Most Common Ant Species
The Lifespan of the Most Common Ant Species | Source

Pavement Ants (Tetramorium caespitum)

Pavement ants are small, blackish ants that nest in pavement and stone, so you can usually see them under stone slabs, large rocks and sidewalks. They also reproduce through nuptial flights during late spring to mid-summer. However, if their nest is close to a heat source, mating season becomes all-year round.

Queens and alates (reproductive individuals) known as gynes (females) and drones (males) are more than twice as large as those in the worker caste. Most pavement ants live in monogynous colonies, but they are also known to form polygyne colonies, meaning that multiple queens may share a single colony. This causes their colonies to become large very quickly. A normal colony could house up to 15,000 workers.

How long do ants live? Worker ants can live up to five years, while male ants live for only a few months. There is not much information about the lifespan of pavement ant queens, but it is very likely that they surpass the worker ants' lifespan.

Their diet consists of both sweet and non-sweet human foods, pet foods, grease, small seeds and insects.

Black Garden Ants

Black garden ants, also called small black ants, usually live in small colonies of up to 500 individual ants. They are called such because of their color and their tendency to live in gardens where there are plants nearby. Worker ants measure about 2mm to 5mm. Queen ants measure about 7mm to 10mm. Males measure about half the size of the queens.

For black garden ants, males would reach maturity in about 8 to 9 weeks. They then die a little while after they've mated with a winged female. Females (workers and soldiers) could age up to 1 to 2 years. Queens, with their longer lifespans, can live up to 30 years! Even if you take away the time this queen ant used to reach adulthood, that would still amount to about 30 years of every day, non-stop egg laying.

After shedding her wings, a black garden ant queen, also called a niger queen, will reside in a tunnel that she dug herself. She will start laying her eggs on the tunnel's lowest levels and once she does, she will never emerge from her tunnel again. Her fat reserves should be enough until the first batch of ant eggs reach adulthood to forage for food to feed her and the colony. If her fat reserves prove to be inadequate, she may have to resort to eating her own ant eggs.

Their main diet consists of honeydew from aphids.

Ghost Ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum)

Ghost ants are relatives of the odorous house ants and they too give off that coconut smell when they are crushed. However, they look quite different from their similar-scented relative. While odorous house ants have brown and black heads and bodies with lighter appendages, ghost ants only have dark heads and thoraxes with lighter abdomens and appendages. They are also very small and monomorphic, which makes them even harder to spot.

A ghost ant's natural habitat is in the tropics, and it could only survive in colder states if its nest is near a heat source. Indoor ghost ants like sweets, but outdoor ghost ants would forage for small insects. Their ability to make temporary nests prove their flexibility, and helps their cause as an invasive ant species. They are polygynous as well, with individual nests housing as much as 1,000 individual ants. Along an odor trail, ants from different nests could exchange nests.

There are a number of ant species where queen ants have short lives, and the ghost ant species is one of them. Queens usually only live for a few weeks, laying up to 5 eggs per day. Ghost ant eggs take 2 to 6 weeks to develop into adult ghost ants.

Fire ants (Solenopsis)

Fire ants are actually a genus that contains at least 201 different species. The most popular of these species are the black imported fire ants (Solenopsis richteri) and the red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta). They are highly aggressive, and stings in people feel similar to being burned with fire. Their venom could even cause an anaphylactic shock to people with allergies.

Fire ants are highly resilient. They do not hibernate or rest for the winter. During floods, fire ant colonies would clump together on the surface of the water to survive. Fire ant workers will inject fire ant venom to eggs to protect them from infections. They live in large colonies that easily number over 200,000 individual ants.

Queen fire ants can live up to 7 years in captivity, and 5 years in their natural habitat. They could also lay upwards of 1,000 eggs every day. Workers could live up to half a year in the wild, and more than a year in captivity. Male fire ants usually live longer than their female worker counterparts, but would die within a few days of participating in a nuptial flight. If an egg is laid during summer season, it will turn into a sterile, female worker fire ant. In the winter, eggs could develop into whatever caste.

A notable fire ant species known by its scientific name Solenopsis daguerrei is a parasite. It finds an already established colony of another fire ant species. When it finds the queen of the nest, it latches itself into her, slowly killing her, while taking the food intended for the dying queen. Solenopsis daguerrei have no need to produce worker ants, as it makes use of the worker ants of its host nest. It produces only gynes and drones.

Fire ants are omnivores who would take back grease, meat, plant seeds, other insects and insect eggs to feed on in their nests.

Complete Guide on Ants Lifespan
Complete Guide on Ants Lifespan | Source

Pharaoh Ants (Monomorium pharaonis)

Pharaoh ants are some of the smallest ant species in the world, usually ranging from 1mm to 2mm in length. One nest could live harmoniously with another pharaoh ant nest. Because of the proximity of multiple nests, you can mistake them for one super-colony. Pharaoh ants aren't aggressive towards humans though.

How long do Pharaoh ants live? Pharaoh ants take 5 to 7 weeks to grow from egg to adult. Alates take about a week more. Queen ants can live up to 12 months, laying as much as 35 eggs per day. Worker pharaoh ants can live up to about 2 months. About 3 to 5 weeks after mating with a female, the winged males die.

Their wide-range diet reflects their flexibility of habitats. They are known to forage for food in the wild and take insect eggs and dead insects back to their nests. In their urban habitats, they would feed on sweet and greasy human foods. They would also feed on human bodily fluids, so hospitals attract these ant species as well. Weirdly enough, these are also the ants that nest in clothes, garbage, or even paper. It's also difficult to determine a colony's population because they tend to build their colonies in inaccessible areas.

With the influx of ant information in this article, some of you may still be inclined to ask, "So, how long do ants live?" The simplest answer could just be this: The lifespan of the most common ant species can range from a few weeks to over thirty years. It is usual for males to die shortly after mating and after having reached maturity, but there are certain ant species where males could outlive their sterile female counterparts. Females, especially female workers, can sometimes live as long as their queens. Queens typically have longer lifespans than the rest of the caste.

A Quick Guide

Ant Species
Ant Species
Ant Species
Male Lifespan
Male Lifespan
Up to 30 years
Up to 30 years
Up to 30 years
Odorous house ant
Up to a year or more
Up to a year or more
Around 5 to 10 weeks
Pavement ant
Up to 5 years, maybe more
Up to 5 years, maybe more
Around 2 to 4 months
Around 2 to 4 months
Up to 30 years
Around 1-2 years
Around 9 to 10 weeks
Around 9 to 10 weeks
A few weeks to a few months
A few weeks to a few months
A few weeks to a few months
Fire ant
Up to 5 years in the wild; up to 7 years in captivity
Up to 6 months in the wild; up to over a year in captivity
Longer than a worker’s lifespan, but dies within days of mating
Pharaoh ant
2 months to 1 year
Around 70 days
Around 2 to 3 months


The world population of ants is in the quadrillion! That means that for every 1,000 insect, one of them belongs to an ant species. For every person in the world, there would be around 1,000,000 ants!


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