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A behavioral repertoire of Atta sexdens (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) queens during the claustral founding and ergonomic stages

Abstract

Founding queens are central to the survival and maintenance of social insect colonies but are often ignored in studies of social insects. We expect the behaviors performed by a newly-mated ant queen to be critical to colony survival and maintenance but what are these behaviors and how do they change over time as colonies grow? The aim of this work was to describe and compare the behavioral repertoire performed by newly mated Atta sexdens queens during both founding and ergonomic stages. Using the Focal Animal Sampling method, 42 behavioral acts were identified and grouped into seven categories, according to their probable biological function. The most frequent behavioral acts were those related to selfgrooming, indicating the potential vulnerability of the colony to parasites at this early stage. Contrary to previous reports, A. sexdens queens feed on the fungus garden when founding new colonies, indicating that, although not exogenous, fungal staphylae, together with trophic eggs, supply the founding queens with a ready energy source they need during the founding stage. The behavioral repertoires of the queens that died during the observational period were compared with those of queens that survived. Before dying, queens performed a behavioral repertoire made almost exclusively of stereotyped behaviors, showing no apparent biological function. Queens that died exhibited lower frequencies of selfgrooming and did not ingest any staphylae, while laying more trophic eggs than the queens that survived. Our results indicate that selfgrooming may be a key behavior for queens to succeed in founding a colony in the absence of worker labor. Further, the behavioral repertoire reported can serve as a foundation for future behavioral work on this important phase in the life of social insects.

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Acknowledgments

Appreciation is expressed to Cristiano Augustin for technical support during the completion of this paper, and Ângelo G. Bicalho, Ariane P.P. Melo, Leandro E. Moraes, Mariana S. Brügger and Nádia B. do E. Santo, who helped in the field and laboratory. This research was funded by a grant from CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, Brazil). We also thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments on the final version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. O. Augustin.

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Augustin, J.O., Santos, J.F.L. & Elliot, S.L. A behavioral repertoire of Atta sexdens (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) queens during the claustral founding and ergonomic stages. Insect. Soc. 58, 197–206 (2011) doi:10.1007/s00040-010-0137-7

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Keywords

  • Attini
  • Claustral founding
  • Colony founding behavior
  • Escovopsis