Reclaiming the crown: queen to worker conflict over reproduction in Aphaenogaster cockerelli

Abstract

In many social taxa, reproductively dominant individuals sometimes use aggression to secure and maintain reproductive status. In the social insects, queen aggression towards subordinate individuals or workers has been documented and is predicted to occur only in species with a small colony size and a low level of queen–worker dimorphism. We report queen aggression towards reproductive workers in the ant species Aphaenogaster cockerelli, a species with a relatively large colony size and a high level of reproductive dimorphism. Through analysis of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles, we show that queens are aggressive only to reproductively active workers. Non-reproductive workers treated with a hydrocarbon typical for reproductives are attacked by workers but not by queens, which suggests different ways of recognition. We provide possible explanations of why queen aggression is observed in this species.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Tanja Bloss, Adam Dolezal, James Garcia, Kevin Haight, Dani Moore, Navdeep Mutti, and Clint Penick for their assistance and three anonymous referees for helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Adrian A. Smith.

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Smith, A.A., Hölldobler, B. & Liebig, J. Reclaiming the crown: queen to worker conflict over reproduction in Aphaenogaster cockerelli . Naturwissenschaften 98, 237–240 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-011-0761-8

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Keywords

  • Queen policing
  • Cuticular hydrocarbons
  • Policing
  • Aggression
  • Reproductive regulation