Science Question from a Toddler: How ants evolve

Consider, if you will, the issue of sex and the single ant. Male ants are born into what is, essentially, a giant sorority house, vastly outnumbered by female workers. But that doesn't mean male ants are living out some Hugh Hefner harem fantasy. Most of those many, many females in the ant colony are completely uninterested in sex.

Only queen ants breed. During the course of their lives, they will produce all the baby ants born in the colony. In fact, in some (but, contrary to popular belief, not all) species, the drones' options are narrowed down to exactly one queen—effectively turning that sorority house into a sausage fest. A virgin queen goes on her mating flight, and the drones will get one shot to pass on their genetic material. Afterwards, the males die, and the queen uses their seed to give birth to daughters upon daughters ... most of which will be sterile workers.

On the surface, that system doesn't make a lot of sense. Evolution works because of natural selection, right? And that's based on sex—who manages to survive to adulthood and who manages to find a mate or mates. It's all about passing on your genes to the next generation.

So why would any species evolve a whole class of individuals who never have sex, and never have offspring?

That was basically the question posed by anonymous reader who asked, "If only the queen ant breeds, how does natural selection work for the other ants?" And it's a damn good question, something that confuses people far older than toddler age. Read the rest