Vicious queen ants use mob tactics to reach the top

Sep 30, 2011

Leptothorax acervorum ants live all over the Northern hemisphere, but their reproductive strategy depends on habitat. Colonies are polygynous (more than one queen) in the forest of Siberia and central Europe, but functionally monogynous (only one queen reproduces) on sun-exposed slopes in Alaska, Hokkaido and the mountains of central Spain. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Ecology demonstrates that when a colony is functionally monogynous not only do queen ants fight by antennal boxing to become the reproductive queen, but that worker ants reinforce queen behaviour by feeding dominant females and expelling, or killing, their weaker sisters.

Researchers from University of Regensburg studied the behaviour of L. acervorum in Spain. In these colonies only a single queen was able to reproduce. All the other queens either did not yet have active ovaries, or their ovaries had reverted to an inactive state. The ants were observed fighting, both queen to queen, and to queens. However the inter-queen fighting involved ritualistic antennal boxing and mandible threats, while the workers were more vicious, and also pulled and bit low ranking queens.

The top queen was decided by the infighting between the queens. However queen reproductive status was not predicted by worker ants' violence but rather was reinforced by the workers feeding and grooming the more dominant queens.

Juergen Trettin, the lead scientists involved in the research said, "These ants live high on - which makes dispersal and colony formation difficult. Under these circumstances the colony cannot support more than one reproductive queen and limited resources make it inadvantageous for the colony to allow low ranking queens to leave and start their own colonies. Destruction of habitat, for instance due to climate change, may cause this behaviour to become extinct."

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: Queen dominance and worker policing control reproduction in a threatened ant, Juergen Trettin, Monika Haubner, Alfred Buschinger and Juergen Heinze, BMC Ecology (in press)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Plotting and treachery in ant royal families

Feb 25, 2010

A team from the University of Copenhagen, led by postdoc Luke Holman of the Center for Social Evolution, describes in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, published on the 24 February 2010, that ant queens are much more d ...

Workers hold key to power in nature's oldest societies

Nov 02, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study analysing how complex, highly-evolved societies are organised in nature has found that it is workers that play a pivotal role in creating well-ordered societies where conflict ...

Wood ant queen has no egg-laying monopoly

Jun 28, 2007

The reproductive monopoly of the ant queen is not as strong as is often thought. Dr. Heikki Helanterä and Prof. Lotta Sundström, biologists working at the University of Helsinki, Finland, investigated worker ovary development ...

Why do some queen bees eat their worker bee's eggs?

Dec 04, 2006

Worker bees, wasps, and ants are often considered neuter. But in many species they are females with ovaries, who although unable to mate, can lay unfertilized eggs which turn into males if reared. For some ...

The ant queen's chemical crown

Jun 30, 2010

The defining feature of social insects is that societies contain queens, which specialise in laying eggs, as well as workers, which are mostly infertile but take care of the offspring and the nest. However, when the queen ...

Nature and nurture help ant societies run smoothly

Apr 22, 2011

Picture an ant colony: up to a million ants, all looking identical, harmoniously going about their busy ant lives. But with so many ants around, how on Earth do they know who's friend and who's foe?

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.