The gestation period, also referred to as pregnancy, is the period of time between fertilisation of the egg and birth during which the embryo or foetus is carried inside a female animal. Gestation only occurs in species that give live birth. Insects do not give live birth to their young, and therefore do not have a gestation period as such. Instead, harvester ants, like many insects, develop over a four-stage life cycle.
Harvester ants begin life as an egg, usually less than half a millimetre in length. These eggs are white or clear, and elliptically shaped. Unfertilised eggs will hatch male ants, while fertilised ones will result in female ants. Female ants mature to become soldiers, workers or queens of new nests, while males are used only for breeding.
The harvester ant larvae emerge from the eggs still white, but without legs. Larvae have bodies shaped like an elongated squash, and comparatively tiny, distinct heads. Despite this, larvae have no eyes and eat only the regurgitated food of other ants. Larvae moult several times as they grow, and spend this entire stage inside the colony.
The pupa stage begins when a larvae spins a silk-like cocoon. Inside this paper-like covering, the larvae metamorphoses into an adult. This cocoon is spun against a solid surface, often against an inside wall of the ant hill. The ant does not emerge from this cocoon until reaching full adult form.
Adult harvester ants are usually between five and six millimetres in length, and can be reddish-brown, yellow or black, depending upon the species. Wingless females serve as soldiers and workers, although the workers are much larger. Winged females leave the colony to start another, while all males are born with wings for use in mating. From start to finish, the harvester ant life cycle spans between six to 10 weeks.
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