Six weeks in the life of a reproducing army ant colony: male parentage and colony behaviour
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The army ant Eciton burchellii is one of the most conspicuous ant species in New World tropical forests, but studies of colony life histories have been hampered by the nomadic lifestyle of these ants, which alternate between a nomadic phase when the colony relocates frequently, and a statary phase when the colony remains at a fixed site. Here we report on a colony from Venezuela that we studied continuously for six weeks, from the time that the queen produced a reproductive brood until the adult reproductives emerged and the colony entered the next cycle. Our findings support the contention that reproductive larvae develop faster than worker larvae, and that the nomadic phases of colonies with reproductive broods are significantly shorter than those of colonies with worker broods. This strongly suggests that the onset of pupation is linked to the onset of the statary phase. We used microsatellite genotyping to accurately identify male and queen larvae and we describe how they can be distinguished morphologically. Using the same genetic markers, we determined the parentage of 81 males produced by this colony. Only one of the males had a genotype that could not be directly derived from the observed queen genotype, but this mismatch is most probably due to a single mutation at one of the microsatellite loci, rather than this male being a worker son. We therefore conclude that this colony provides no evidence that workers lay eggs that develop into adult males in the presence of the queen, confirming the results of an earlier study on male parentage in an Old World army ant.
Keywords:Eciton burchellii reproductive brood worker sterility colony fission nomadism
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