Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Princesses become warriors: Young queens of leafcutter ants change roles if they cannot reproduce

Date:
September 11, 2012
Source:
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Summary:
Biologists have discovered that queens of the ant genus Acromyrmex are flexible in the event that they cannot found their own colony. The queens of other species die as soon as they can no longer fulfill their life's task. The unsuccessful Acromyrmex queens, on the other hand, change their entire repertoire of behavior and help defend and tend to their mother colony, as the scientists report.

Wingless queens of the leafcutter ant genus Acromyrmex that remain sterile and cannot found their own colony alter their behavior completely and, in contrast to fertile queens, help to defend their mother colony.
Credit: Image courtesy of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Biologists from the universities of Freiburg and Copenhagen, Denmark, have discovered that queens of the ant genus Acromyrmex are flexible in the event that they cannot found their own colony. The queens of other species die as soon as they can no longer fulfill their life's task. The unsuccessful Acromyrmex queens, on the other hand, change their entire repertoire of behavior and help defend and tend to their mother colony, as the scientists report in the current online issue of the journal Current Biology.

The critical moment in the life of the queens is their nuptial flight, in which they mate with male ants. They then lose their wings and found their own colony. Queens are existentially important for the continued existence of a colony because only they can reproduce. They hide in their nest and avoid all risks. They are defended by the much smaller and sterile female workers or, in some species, soldiers. "We were very surprised to find Acromyrmex queens that defended their nest during our studies in Panama," says the Freiburg behavioral ecologist Dr. Volker Nehring, who conducted the study.

It was previously assumed that ant queens who lose their wings before their nuptial flight and remain unfertilized simply die. Some of them are also eaten by their sisters, allowing the energy stored in their bodies to be made useful for the colony. However, leafcutter ants feed on a fungus that they grow in their colonies and that provides them with plant nutrients. "We suspect that they have lost the ability to digest meat and recycle their queens," says Nehring. "There is thus an evolutionary advantage to keeping the sterile queens alive and making them useful for the colony in another way." They hardly have to feed at all, because they live from reserves and digest their own wing muscles like the fertilized queens.

Upon their return from Panama, where they had conducted field studies supported in part by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the scientists succeeded in reproducing their observations in the laboratory and studying them more closely. They prevented young queens from reproducing by removing their wings, as often also happens in nature. The wingless queens exhibited a greatly increased level of aggressiveness when exposed to scents from foreign colonies. Unlike their winged sisters they helped take care of the mother's offspring and engaged in nest building. "It seems as if these princesses knew that they would never be able to mate and found their own colony without wings," says Nehring. "So the only thing left for them to do was to help their uninjured sisters and defend the nest against invaders like the legendary Amazons."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Volker Nehring, Jacobus J. Boomsma, Patrizia d'Ettorre. Wingless virgin queens assume helper roles in Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants. Current Biology, 2012; 22 (17): R671 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.06.038

Cite This Page:

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. "Princesses become warriors: Young queens of leafcutter ants change roles if they cannot reproduce." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911091219.htm>.
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. (2012, September 11). Princesses become warriors: Young queens of leafcutter ants change roles if they cannot reproduce. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911091219.htm
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. "Princesses become warriors: Young queens of leafcutter ants change roles if they cannot reproduce." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911091219.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) — Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction

Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) — With plenty of honking, flapping, and fluttering, more than three dozen Caribbean flamingos at Zoo Miami were rounded up today as the iconic exhibit was closed for renovations. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins