, Volume 91, Issue 8, pp 396-399

Exceptionally high levels of multiple mating in an army ant

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Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, although there are notable exceptions. Competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of high levels of multiple mating, but this issue is far from resolved. Here we use microsatellites to investigate mating frequency in the army ant Eciton burchellii and show that queens mate with an exceptionally large number of males, eclipsing all but one other social insect species for which data are available. In addition we present evidence that suggests that mating is serial, continuing throughout the lifetime of the queen. This is the first demonstration of serial mating among social hymenoptera. We propose that high paternity within colonies is most likely to have evolved to increase genetic diversity and to counter high pathogen and parasite loads.