Potential and realized reproduction by different worker castes in queen-less and queen-right colonies of Pogonomyrmex badius
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Workers of the Florida harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex badius), the only North American Pogonomyrmex with a polymorphic worker caste, produce males when colonies are orphaned. In this study,we assessed the reproductive potential of workers of each caste group, minors and majors, in the presence and absence of the queen, and tested whether males produced in natural queen-right colonies are derived from workers. Worker size was positively correlated with ovariole number such that major workers had approximately double the number of ovarioles as minor workers. The number of vitellogenic oocytes, a measure of reproductive potential, was greater in major compared to minor workers and increased in both worker castes when queens were removed. Major workers have greater reproductive potential than minors although they represent a minority within the colony (~5% of workers are majors). Worker produced eggs were visible in colonies 28 – 35 days after queen removal. This time lag, from queen removal to egg production, is similar to other ants and bees. Though workers are capable of producing viable eggs, we found no evidence that they do so in queen-right colonies, suggesting that worker reproduction is controlled via some social mechanism (self restraint, policing, or inhibition). This result supports predictions of kin selection theory – that due to multiple mating by the queen workers are more related to queen-produced males than most worker-produced males and should thus favor reproduction by the queen and inhibit reproduction by other workers.
Keywords:Polymorphism worker reproduction worker sons male parentage queen removal
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