, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 330-338

Worker discrimination among queens in newly founded colonies of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta

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Although colonies of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta are often founded by small groups of queens, all but one of the queens are soon eliminated due to worker attacks and queen fighting. The elimination of supernumerary queens provides an important context for tests of discrimination by the workers, since the outcome of these interactions strongly affects the workers' inclusive fitness. To test whether workers in newly founded colonies discriminate among nestmate queens, paired cofoundresses were narrowly separated by metal screens that prevented direct fighting, but through which the workers could easily pass. Soon after the first workers completed development, they often attacked one of the queens; these attacks were strongly associated with queen mortality. When one queen's brood was discarded, so that the adult workers were all the daughters of just one queen, the workers were significantly less likely to bite their mother than the unrelated queen; however, this tendency was comparatively weak. Queens kept temporarily at a higher temperature to increase their rate of investment in brood-rearing lost weight more rapidly than paired queens and were subsequently more likely to be attacked and killed by workers. Workers were more likely to bite queens that had been temporarily isolated than queens that remained close to brood and workers. When queens were not separated by screens, the presence of workers stimulated queen fights. These results show that workers discriminate strongly among equally familiar queens and that discrimination is based more on the queens' condition and recent social environment than on kinship.

Received: 9 June 1998 / Accepted after revision: 10 October 1998