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An ant colony is the basic family unit around which ants organize their lifecycle. Ant colonies are eusocial, and are very much like those found in other social Hymenoptera, though the various groups of these developed sociality independently through convergent evolution. The typical colony consists of one or more egg-laying queens, a large number of sterile females ("workers") and, seasonally, a large number of winged sexual males and females. Periodically, swarms of the winged sexuals (known as alates) depart the nest in great nuptial flights. The males die shortly thereafter, along with most of the females. A small percentage of the females survive to initiate new nests.
Until 2000, the largest known ant supercolony was on the Ishikari coast of Hokkaidō, Japan. The colony was estimated to contain 306 million worker ants and one million queen ants living in 45,000 nests interconnected by underground passages over an area of 2.7 km2 (670 acres). In 2000, an enormous supercolony of Argentine ants was found in Southern Europe (report published in 2002). Of 33 ant populations nested along the 6,004-kilometre (3,731 mi) stretch along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in Southern Europe, 30 belonged to one supercolony with estimated millions of nests and billions of workers, interspersed with three populations of another supercolony. The researchers[which?] claim that this case of unicoloniality cannot be explained by loss of their genetic diversity due to the genetic bottleneck of the imported ants. In 2009, it was demonstrated that the largest Japanese, Californian and European Argentine ant supercolonies were in fact part of a single global "megacolony".
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An ant-hill, in its simplest form, is a pile of earth, sand, pine needles, or clay or a composite of these and other materials that build up at the entrances of the subterranean dwellings of ant colonies as they are excavated. A colony is built and maintained by legions of worker ants, who carry tiny bits of dirt and pebbles in their mandibles and deposit them near the exit of the colony. They normally deposit the dirt or vegetation at the top of the hill to prevent it from sliding back into the colony, but in some species they actively sculpt the materials into specific shapes, and may create nest chambers within the mound.
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