, Volume 95, Issue 11, pp 1101–1105 | Cite as

Imperfect chemical female mimicry in males of the ant Cardiocondyla obscurior

  • Sylvia CremerEmail author
  • Patrizia D’Ettorre
  • Falko P. Drijfhout
  • Matthew F. Sledge
  • Stefano Turillazzi
  • Jürgen Heinze
Short Communication


Winged and wingless males coexist in the ant Cardiocondyla obscurior. Wingless (“ergatoid”) males never leave their maternal colony and fight remorselessly among each other for the access to emerging females. The peaceful winged males disperse after about 10 days, but beforehand also mate in the nest. In the first 5 days of their life, winged males perform a chemical female mimicry that protects them against attack and even makes them sexually attractive to ergatoid males. When older, the chemical profile of winged males no longer matches that of virgin females; nevertheless, they are still tolerated, which so far has been puzzling. Contrasting this general pattern, we have identified a single aberrant colony in which all winged males were attacked and killed by the ergatoid males. A comparative analysis of the morphology and chemical profile of these untypical attacked winged males and the tolerated males from several normal colonies revealed that normal old males are still performing some chemical mimicry to the virgin queens, though less perfect than in their young ages. The anomalous attacked winged males, on the other hand, had a very different odour to the females. Our study thus exemplifies that the analysis of rare malfunctioning can add valuable insight on functioning under normal conditions and allows the conclusion that older winged males from normal colonies of the ant C. obscurior are guarded through an imperfect chemical female mimicry, still close enough to protect against attacks by the wingless fighters yet dissimilar enough not to elicit their sexual interest.


Female mimicry Intraspecific chemical mimicry Alternative reproductive tactics Ant males 



We thank the personnel of the Mass Spectrometry Centre of the University of Florence (C.I.S.M.) for gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, A. Schrempf for the experimental help, M. Sixt, A. Schrempf, S. Tragust and E.D. Morgan for the discussion and the editor and three anonymous referees for the constructive comments on the manuscript. This study was supported by the DFG (He 1623/23). Collecting colonies was allowed by Brazilian authorities (permit RMX 004/02), and the experiments comply with the current laws of Germany.


  1. Anderson C, Cremer S, Heinze J (2003) Live and let die: why fighter males of the ant Cardiocondyla kill each other but tolerate their winged rivals. Behav Ecol 14:54–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cremer S, Heinze J (2002) Adaptive production of fighter males: queens of the ant Cardiocondyla adjust the sex ratio under local mate competition. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 269:417–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cremer S, Heinze J (2003) Stress grows wings: environmental induction of winged dispersal males in Cardiocondyla ants. Curr Biol 13:219–223PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cremer S, Sledge MF, Heinze J (2002) Male ants disguised by the queen’s bouquet. Nature 419:897PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. D’Ettorre P, Heinze J (2005) Individual recognition in ant queens. Curr Biol 15:2170–2174PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kinomura K, Yamauchi K (1987) Fighting and mating behaviors of dimorphic males in the ant Cardiocondyla wroughtoni. J Ethol 5:75–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kugler J (1983) The males of Cardiocondyla emery (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) with the description of the winged male of Cardiocondyla wroughtoni (Forel). Isr J Entomol 17:1–21Google Scholar
  8. Lommelen E, Johnson C, Drijfhout F, Billen J, Wenseleers T, Gobin B (2006) Cuticular hydrocarbons provide reliable cues of fertility in the ant Gnamptogenys striatula. J Chem Ecol 32:2023–2034PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Oldham NJ, Billen J, Morgan ED (1994) On the similarity of the Dufour gland secretion and the cuticular hydrocarbons of some bumblebees. Physiol Entomol 19:115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Pierce NE, Braby MF, Heath A, Lohman DJ, Mathew J, Rand DB, Travassos MA (2002) The ecology and evolution of ant association in the Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera). Ann Rev Entomol 47:733–771CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Stuart RJ, Francoeur A, Loiselle R (1987) Lethal fighting among dimorphic males of the ant, Cardiocondyla wroughtonii. Naturwissenschaften 74:548–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Turillazzi S, Sledge MF, Cremer S, Heinze J (2002) A method for analysing small-size specimens in GC–MS. Ins Soc Life 4:169–175Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvia Cremer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patrizia D’Ettorre
    • 1
    • 2
  • Falko P. Drijfhout
    • 3
  • Matthew F. Sledge
    • 4
  • Stefano Turillazzi
    • 4
  • Jürgen Heinze
    • 1
  1. 1.Evolution, Behaviour and Genetics, Biology IUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany
  2. 2.Centre of Social Evolution, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Chemical Ecology Group, School of Physical and Geographical SciencesKeele UniversityKeeleUK
  4. 4.Mass Spectrometry Centre (C.I.S.M.) and Department of Animal Biology and GeneticsUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations