Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 103–115 | Cite as

Colony growth and the ontogeny of worker polymorphism in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta

  • Walter R. Tschinkel


Colony size and worker polymorphism (headwidth) were determined for fire ant colonies ranging from incipient to 12 years of age. Colonies grew approximately logistically, reaching half size between 21/2 and 31/2 yr and reaching their maximum size of about 220000 workers after 4 to 6 yr. Colony size showed strong seasonal variation. There was some evidence that growth rate may vary with food density. Incipient colonies are monomorphic and consist of small workers only, but as colonies grow, production of larger workers causes the size-frequency distributions to become strongly skewed. These skewed distributions were shown to consist of two slightly overlapping normal distributions, a narrow one defined as the minor workers, and a much broader one defined as the major workers. Major workers differ from minor workers in having been subjected to a discrete, additional stimulation of body growth, resulting in a second normal subpopulation. The category of “media” is seen to be developmentally undefined. The mean headwidth of the workers in both of these subpopulations increased during the first 6 mo. of colony life, until colonies averaged about 4000 workers. Headwidth of minors declined somewhat in colonies older than about 5 yr, but that of majors remained stable. When the first majors appear, their weight averages about twice that of minors. This increases to about 4 times at 6 mo. and remains stable thereafter. The range of weights of majors is up to 20 times that of minors. Growth of the subpopulation of major workers is also logistic, but more rapid than the colony as a whole, causing the proportion of major workers to increase with colony size. In full sized colonies, about 35% of the workers are majors. Total biomass investment in majors increases as long as colonies grow, beginning at about 10% at 2 months and reaching about 70% in mature colonies. This suggests that major workers play an important role in colony success. The total dry biomass of workers peaked at about 106 g, that of majors at about 72 g. These values then fluctuate seasonally in parallel to number of workers. When colony growth ceases, the proportion of majors remains approximately stable. Colony size explained 98% of the variation in the number of major workers.


Colony Size Minor Worker Colony Growth Major Worker Small Worker 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

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

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