Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 323–336 | Cite as

Fire ant polymorphism: the ergonomics of brood production

  • Sanford D. Porter
  • Walter R. Tschinkel


Social organization is generally assumed to increase colony efficiency and survival; however, little quantitative information is available to support this assumption. Polymorphism is an important aspect of labor division in colonies of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Our objective was to investigate the effect of fire ant polymorphism on brood production efficiency. We set up standardized polymorphic colonies with a full range of worker sizes and artificial monomorphic colonies that contained only small, medium or large workers respectively. Polymorphic colonies produced brood at about the same rate as colonies composed of only small workers (Fig. 2A). Colonies composed of only medium workers produced about 30% less brood, and colonies composed of only large workers produced little or no brood at all. This pattern was independent of colony size; however, smaller colonies (0.75 g, live weight) produced almost twice as much brood per gram of workers as larger colonies (3.0g). Additional experiments revealed that the size of workers in the artificial monomorphic colonies affected all stages of brood rearing. Large workers not only inhibited the development of early and late instar larvae (Fig 4), but also reduced the queen's oviposition rate (Fig. 3). Brood production efficiency on an energetic basis was determined by dividing the grams of brood produced per unit time by the energetic costs expended for the maintenance and production of each worker size class. Worker maintenance costs were estimated from respiration while production costs were determined from the caloric content of worker tissue divided by their average longevity. Worker respiration per milligram body weight decreased about 40% as body size increased (Fig. 5). Large workers lived about 50% longer than small workers (Fig. 6) and contained 9% more energy per milligram of tissue (Fig. 7). Energetic efficiency in polymorphic colonies was approximately 10% higher than in colonies composed of only small workers (Fig. 9). In other words, when food supplies are limiting, polymorphism may offer a slight advantage in brood production.


Colony Size Caloric Content Medium Worker Oviposition Rate Large Worker 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sanford D. Porter
    • 1
  • Walter R. Tschinkel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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