, Volume 94, Issue 9, pp 781–786 | Cite as

Dynamics of sperm transfer in the ant Leptothorax gredleri

  • Angelika OppeltEmail author
  • Jürgen Heinze
Short Communication


Mating tactics differ remarkably between and within species of social Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants) concerning, e.g., mating frequencies, sperm competition, and the degree of male sperm limitation. Although social Hymenoptera might, therefore, potentially be ideal model systems for testing sexual selection theory, the dynamics of mating and sperm transfer have rarely been studied in species other than social bees, and basic information needed to draw conclusions about possible sperm competition and female choice is lacking. We investigated sperm transfer in the ant Leptothorax gredleri, a species in which female sexuals attract males by “female calling.” The analysis of 38 female sexuals fixed immediately or up to 7 days after copulation with a single male each revealed that the sperm is transferred into the female bursa copulatrix embedded in a gelatinous mass, presumably a spermatophore. Sperm cells rapidly start to migrate from the tip of the spermatophore towards the spermatheca, but transfer is drastically slowed down by an extreme constriction of the spermathecal duct, through which sperm cells have to pass virtually one by one. This results in the spermatheca being filled only between one and several hours after mating. During this time, the posterior part of the spermatophore seals the junction between bursa copulatrix and spermathecal duct and prevents sperm loss. The prolonged duration of sperm transfer might allow female sexuals to chose between ejaculates and explain previously reported patterns of single paternity of the offspring of multiply mated queens.


Reproductive biology Mating Spermatophore Spermatheca Spermathecal duct Formicidae 



We thank Birgit Lautenschläger and Maria Schiwek for their support with histology, Wolfgang Göttler for his help with 3D reconstruction, and Stefan Buchhauser for assistance in image editing. B. Baer and two anonymous referees made helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. This study was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (He 1623/19).

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology I, ZoologyUniversity RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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