Skip to main content
Log in

Colony founding by pleometrosis in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta

  • Published:
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Newly mated queens of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, found colonies either alone (haplometrosis) or by joining with other newly mated queens (pleometrosis). Surveys after mating flights showed that nests and queens were usually aggregated in space, that queens were aggregated among occupied nest chambers, and that the occurrence and degree of pleometrosis was related to the mean queen density. Queens and nests were strongly associated with slightly higher ground, away from rainwash areas and puddles.

The effects of queen density and microtopography (small hills) on pleometrosis were tested in a two-factor factorial experiment. A 64-fold increase in applied queen density resulted in a 2.19-fold increase in mean queens/nest (pleometrosis). Variation in queen density accounted for 70% of the variation in the mean queens per nest, as well as 78% of the aggregation of queens among the available nest chambers. Queen density also accounted for 86% of the aggregation of queens in area. Thus, at all densities, queens are moving into areas and nests of higher density, increasing both the local mean densities and the level of aggregation. Microtopography had no significant effect. Lab experiments suggest that the interactions leading to association take place on the surface.

A mechanism is proposed in which the central causal factor regulating pleometrosis is local queen density, local being one to a few square meters, and a variety of factors affect pleometrosis by their action upon the local queen density.

In the laboratory, groups of 5 foundresses produce more workers than do groups of 10 or 15, or single queens. Nests founded by groups begin the growth period with about 3 times as many workers as do those founded by single queens, and the former remain about three times as large for at least the first 100 days of growth and probably more. Higher worker production rate probably confers an advantage in survival and competition throughout colony growth. These differences between haplo- and pleometrotically founded nests may be among the factors favoring foundress associations.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Bartz SH, Hölldobler H (1982) Colony founding in Myrmecocystus mimicus Wheeler (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and the evolution of foundress associations. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 10: 137–147

    Google Scholar 

  • Fletcher DJC, Blum MS, Whitt TV, Temple N (1980) Monogyny and polygyny in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Ann Entomol Soc Am 73: 658–661

    Google Scholar 

  • Glancey BM, Craig CH, Stringer CE, Bishop PM (1972) Multiple fertile queens in colonies of the imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. J Ga Entomol Soc 8: 327–328

    Google Scholar 

  • Markin GP, Collins HJ, Dillier JH (1972) Colony founding by queens of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Ann Entomol Soc Am 65: 1053–1058

    Google Scholar 

  • Markin GP, Dillier JH, Collins HL (1973) Growth and development of colonies of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Ann Entomol Soc Am 66: 803–808

    Google Scholar 

  • Mintzer A (1979) Colony foundation and pleometrosis in Camanotus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Pan Pac Entomol 55: 81–89

    Google Scholar 

  • Morrill WL (1974) Production and flight of alate red imported fire ants. Environ Entomol 3: 265–271

    Google Scholar 

  • Southwood TRE (1978) Ecological methods, 2nd edn. Halstead Press

  • Stumper R (1962) Sur un effect de groupe chez les femelles de Campanotus vagus (Scopli). Insectes Soc 9: 329–333

    Google Scholar 

  • Thorne BL (1982) Polygyny in termites: Multiple primary queens in colonies of Nasutitermes corniger (Isoptera: Termitidae). Insectes Soc 29: 102–117

    Google Scholar 

  • Tschinkel WR, Belle G Van (1976) Dispersal of larvae of the tenebrionid beetle, Zophobas rugipes, in relation to weight and crowding. Ecology 57: 161–168

    Google Scholar 

  • Tschinkel WR, Howard DF (1978) Queen replacement in orphared colonies of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Bchav Ecol Sociobiol 3: 297–310

    Google Scholar 

  • Waloff N (1957) The effect of the number of queens of the ant Lasius flavus (Fab.) (Hym.: Formicidae) on their survival and on the rate of development of the first brood. Insectes Soc 4: 391–408

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson EO (1966) Behavior of social insects. Symp R Entomol Soc (Lond) 3: 81–96

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Harvard, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson NL, Dillier JH, Markin GP (1971) Foraging territories of imported fir ants. Ann Entomol Soc Am 64: 660–665

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

This is publication No. 10 of the Fire Ant Research Team

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tschinkel, W.R., Howard, D.F. Colony founding by pleometrosis in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 12, 103–113 (1983).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: