COLONIES AND SUPER- COLONIES
Painstaking research involving genetics and the marking of thousands of worker ants has shown that wood ant colonies can have a single queen (monogyny) or many queens (polygyny). A colony can also inhabit a single nest mound (monodomy) or multiple, connected nest mounds (polydomy) that form by ‘budding’. In any given area, there might be a mix of these social structures.
1 THE THATCH
This outer layer of the nest consists mostly of pine needles and other vegetation arranged in a specific way to make the most of the sun’s warming rays and to keep rain out.
2 NEST ENTRANCES
There are several of these all over the nest mound. They can be opened or closed to maintain optimal temperature and humidity within the nest.
3 TREE STUMP
The foundress of the colony often establishes the nest in an old tree stump, which might already be occupied by another ant species and so has ready-made chambers and tunnels. As this stump decays, it helps to keep the surrounding nest mound warm.
4 QUEEN CHAMBER
In the deepest part of the nest resides the queen, attended by workers and laying a stream of eggs. Deep down in the nest, she can live as long as 15–20 years.
5 HOT ROOM
Eggs from the queen are taken by workers to the top of the nest mound, where temperatures can be higher, to hasten their development.
6 BROOD CHAMBER
Mature eggs are taken from the hot room to brood chambers deeper in the nest, where their every need is attended to by an army of nurse-maids – their older sisters.
7 REFUSE CHAMBER
Ants are scrupulously tidy. They have to be, because conditions in the nest are perfect for harmful fungi and bacteria. Waste, spent workers and diseased or dead eggs and larvae are all dumped here to be safely contained.