Reproduction, dominance, and caste: endocrine profiles of queens and workers of the ant Harpegnathos saltator
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The regulation of reproduction within insect societies is a key component of the evolution of eusociality. Differential patterns of hormone levels often underlie the reproductive division of labor observed among colony members, and further task partitioning among workers is also often correlated with differences in juvenile hormone (JH) and ecdysteroid content. We measured JH and ecdysteroid content of workers and queens of the ant Harpegnathos saltator. In this species, new colonies are founded by a single queen, but after she dies workers compete in an elaborate dominance tournament to decide a new group of reproductives termed “gamergates.” Our comparisons revealed that queens, gamergates, and inside workers (non-reproductive) did not differ in levels of JH or ecdysteroids. However, increased JH and decreased ecdysteroid content was observed in outside workers exhibiting foraging behavior. Application of a JH analog to virgin queens of H. saltator, although effective at inducing dealation, failed to promote egg production. Together, these results support the hypothesis that JH has lost its reproductive function in H. saltator to regulate foraging among the worker caste.