Acromyrmex fowleri: a new inquiline social parasite species of leaf-cutting ants from South America, with a discussion of social parasite biogeography in the Neotropical region

  • C. RabelingEmail author
  • S. Messer
  • S. Lacau
  • I. C. do Nascimento
  • M. BacciJr.
  • J. H. C. Delabie
Research Article


Ant inquiline social parasites obligately depend on their hosts for survival and reproduction. Because of their shift from a eusocial to a socially parasitic life history, inquiline social parasites are interesting study systems for exploring the dynamics between conflict and cooperation in eusocial insect colonies. In addition, inquiline social parasites are of interest to evolutionary biology, because some species evolved directly from their hosts via sympatric speciation. With five described species, inquiline social parasites are relatively diverse in the fungus-growing ants. So far, four species have been reported from the leaf-cutting ant genus Acromyrmex and its closely affiliated social parasite genus Pseudoatta. In contrast, only a single parasite species was described from the lower attine genus Mycocepurus. Here, we describe a new species of inquiline social parasite, Acromyrmex fowleri sp. nov., which was discovered 27 years ago in the tropical region of Brazil (State of Bahia), living inside the colonies of its host Acromyrmex rugosus. We also report observations on the behavioral ecology and natural history of A. fowleri and its host. Our study suggests that A. fowleri is an obligate, queen-tolerant, workerless inquiline social parasite of A. rugosus and that A. fowleri represents some but not all morphological and life history characters of the inquiline syndrome, supporting the hypothesis that the complex traits of the inquiline syndrome evolve in a mosaic fashion. Considering that A. fowleri is a new social parasite species from tropical Brazil, we discuss the paradoxical biogeographic distribution of ant social parasites, which we refer to as the “Kutter–Wilson Paradox”, and conclude that the Kutter–Wilson Paradox is a genuine biogeographical pattern, instead of being a mere sampling artifact.


Attini Biogeography Formicidae Fungus-growing ants Inquilinism Kutter–Wilson Paradox Latitudinal diversity gradient Myrmecosymbiosis Social parasitism 



We are especially grateful to Marcelo Schlindwein, Clayton and Simon R. Delabie, Gideval J. Carvalho (“Zom”), Peters Langlands, Meredith Cobb, and Katie Watkins for their help with collecting large quantities of alate ants along the beaches of Ilhéus on several occasions, generating the information about the nuptial flight activity of the social parasite and its host. We gratefully acknowledge the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA), and the ICMBio for permission to conduct fieldwork in Brazil. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF DEB-1456964 & DEB-1654829 to CR), FAPESP (2011/50226-0 and 2014/25507-3 to MB), and CNPq (309611/2015-6 and 409721/2016-6 to MB; 307128/2014-8 to JHCD).


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Laboratório de Biosistemática AnimalUniversidade Estadual do Sudoeste da BahiaItapetingaBrazil
  3. 3.Departamento de Ciências BiológicasUniversidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia, Campus de JequiéJequiéBrazil
  4. 4.Instituto de Biociências de Rio ClaroUniversidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)Rio ClaroBrazil
  5. 5.Departamento de Ciências Agrárias e AmbientaisUniversidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, UESCIlhéusBrazil
  6. 6.Laboratório de MirmecologiaCEPLAC/CEPEC/SEFITItabunaBrazil

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