Permanent loss of wings in queens of the ant Odontomachus coquereli from Madagascar
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Winged queens are the most common reproductives in ants. They are morphologically specialized for independent colony foundation, with wings for long-range dispersal and metabolic reserves to raise the first brood. However independent foundation can sometimes be selected against and replaced by fission, featuring short-range dispersal on the ground and reproductives that are dependent on the wingless workers for all non-reproductive tasks. We investigated the evolutionary consequences of this transition on the morphology of the reproductives by collecting 30 colonies of Odontomachus coquereli from Madagascar, the only species in the genus where winged queens have never been found. Data about colony demography, morphometry, allometry and ovarian dissections showed that the winged queen caste has been replaced by a wingless reproductive caste with distinct body proportions relative to the workers or to congeneric winged queens. The 17 reproductives that we measured exhibited little size variability. A single wingless reproductive was found in each colony, corresponding to ‘ergatoids’ in literature. Several facts suggest that colonies reproduce by fission, notably the relatively constant colony size (19±11 workers). The developmental origins of wingless reproductive phenotypes need investigation; little genetic change may be involved, as seen when Odontomachus larvae are parasitized by nematodes. The sole function of wingless reproductives in O. coquereli is reproduction, and they contrast with multi-purpose wingless reproductives found in other ants, where numerous intermorphs occur in each colony and contribute to sterile tasks.
Keywords:Ergatoid queen morphometry colony fission intermorph caste
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