By the time the colony had reached its full mature size, two years after the nuptial flight of the Queen, it contained more than ten thousand workers. It was able, in the following year, to rear virgin queens, and males, and through them to give birth to new colonies. By that time the Queen was producing eggs at the average rate of one every fifteen minutes. Heavy and torpid, she lay in the royal chamber at the bottom of the subterranean nest, five feet below the surface, a distance of four hundred ant lengths. By human scale, the ant city was the equivalent of two hundred underground stories. The mound of excavated soil capping the nest added another fifty stories aboveground.Trailhead
The Queen may not have been the leader of this miniature civilization, but she was the fountainhead of all its energies and growth, the key to its success or failure. The metronomic pumping out of fertilized eggs from her twenty ovaries was the heartbeat of the colony. The ultimate purpose of all the workers’ labor—their careful construction of the nest, their readiness to risk their lives in daily searches for food, their suicidal defense of the nest entrance—was that she continue to create more altruistic workers like themselves. One worker, or a thousand workers, could die and the colony would go on, repairing itself as needed. But the failure of the Queen would be fatal.