, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 141-146

Nutritional function of replete workers in the pharaoh's ant, Monomorium pharaonis (L.)

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Queens of the pharaoh's ant Monomorium pharaonis (L.), like several other ant species, feed on larval secretions as their main nourishment and their fecundity is positively correlated with the number of large larvae present in the nest. The surplus of secretions produced by larvae is stored in a temporary caste of replete workers, which comprises young workers who remain in the nest and store liquid nourishment. Repletes are characterised by a conspicuously large gaster, caused by large amounts of liquid food stored in the crop, from which it may be regurgitated and distributed among colony members. In this study, repletes of pharaoh's ants were demonstrated to be functioning as buffers, smoothing fluctuations in availability of high quality food to the reproductive queens when larvae are scarce or missing, thus temporarily keeping up the egg production of queens.¶In undisturbed two-queen colonies with 20 large worker larvae and 30 workers (15 young and 15 old workers), approximately 10 repletes developed (one replete per two larvae). Development of older workers into repletes, when some or all repletes had been removed from the colonies, demonstrated that their temporal polyethism exhibits great plasticity in this trait.¶This study confirmed that, in pharaoh's ants, the regulation of fecundity depends not only on the food flow to the queen from larvae or from repletes but also on an unknown larval stimulus.¶The term crop repletes is suggested for replete workers which use their crop to store nourishment, as opposed to fat-body repletes, which store nourishment in their fat body.¶The presence of brood tending crop repletes in nests in several European ant species of Leptothorax, Myrmica, and Lasius, show that repletism is a common trait in ants, and that it may play an important role in regulation of nutrition in ant colonies, as demonstrated in Monomorium pharaonis.

Received 27 January 1999; revised 8 October 1999; accepted 15 October 1999.