A unique strategy of host colony exploitation in a parasitic ant: workers of Polyrhachis lama rear their brood in neighbouring host nests
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- Maschwitz, U., Go, C., Kaufmann, E. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2004) 91: 40. doi:10.1007/s00114-003-0487-3
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The formicine ant Polyrhachis lama is a social parasite, exploiting its ponerine host ant species Diacamma sp. In most social parasitic associations, the parasitic species are closely related to their host species group, evolving directly from independent ancestors of the host species. However, in the Polyrhachis lama–Diacamma sp. association, the associated species belong to different ant subfamilies. Based on preliminary field surveys, we had presumed that P. lama might have given up its reproductive division of labour, i.e. workers would be able to produce males as well as workers and females parthenogenetically. In this study, this hypothesis was disproved: Polyrhachis lama workers cannot be fertilized and are only able to produce males. In the host–parasite association originating from nests possessing a P. lama queen, workers penetrate surrounding Diacamma sp. nests, carrying brood for rearing within these satellite nests. In this peculiar way, a single P. lama colony is able to exploit several Diacamma sp. colonies simultaneously.