The TL;DR is in the subject line.

The back story is as follows:

I am combating ants in my high-rise apartment unit. One piece of online advice was to vacuum regularly, and pay attention to edges of the floor. I'm considering taping up the vacuum bag opening so that I'm not tossing out a nearly empty bag every day (almost $10 each, and terrible for the environment).

I had initial concern that an ant might get out, so I also double bagged the vacuum bag. This is making it inconvenient to use, meaning that I'll vacuum less. Exactly the opposite of the online advice.

I think that the chances of an ant getting out is low, and even if escape was possible, it probably wouldn't be more than one or two. I can accept that, if they don't go start generating more ants.

I haven't found anything online about workers being able to transform into queens once they are foraging. What I have read is that it has to do with genetics and extra nutrition during the formative stages.

Is it safe to assume that foraging workers will not be able to turn into queens?

After note: It just occurred to me, if ants can chew through wood, then there's nothing to prevent them from chewing through a vacuum bag over the course of a day or more. They can even chew through the plastic bag in which the vacuum bag is sealed. Is this a valid concern, or is their ability to chew limited to wood?

  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the species. Apparently there are species where workers can mate and lay fertilized eggs. However, it's unlikely to be a relevant issue for you because without the colony the few escapees won't be able to care for the eggs and larvae. Your issue is the colony and that your apartment attracts foraging ants. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Sep 16, 2019 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, Roland. Did you want to post that as the answer? $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2019 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


Workers cannot become "queens" because the development of a larvae into a worker or a queen happens during the larval stage, depending mainly on the food that the larvae is given. That being said, once the queen is removed from a colony, in many ant and other social hymenopteran species, workers are no longer inhibited by the pheromones produced by the queens that prevent the growth of the worker's ovaries. So in some species, removing the queen can lead to workers laying eggs but these will most often be parthenogenetic and lead to the production of males only. In a very few species, workers can produce female eggs by parthenogenesis or mate with males after the removal of the queen. Such traits are usually associated with large body size and small colony size, so they are unlikely to be the ones you have in buildings.

Bourke, A. F. (1988). Worker reproduction in the higher eusocial Hymenoptera. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 63(3), 291-311.

Page, R. E., & Erickson, E. H. (1988). Reproduction by worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 23(2), 117-126.

Wenseleers, T., Helanterä, H., Hart, A., & Ratnieks, F. L. (2004). Worker reproduction and policing in insect societies: an ESS analysis. Journal of evolutionary biology, 17(5), 1035-1047.


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