Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 711–730 | Cite as

Responses of Two Potential Host Species (Formica gnava and Formica occulta) to Pupae of the Obligatory Slave-Making Ant, Polyergus breviceps (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

  • Christine A. Johnson


Queens of the slave-making ant, Polyergus breviceps, take over nests of adult Formica workers when establishing new colonies. Although naïve to slave-maker brood, the usurped Formica rear Polyergus offspring and nests containing both host and parasite species forms. Host worker acceptance of parasite brood has been attributed to the similarity of “brood tending signals” between these closely related taxa and/or the presence of an “attractive pheromone” in the slave-maker brood. By presenting single-species groups of Formica occulta and Formica gnava (two host species of P. breviceps) with a choice of Formica pupae of both species or with a choice of P. breviceps pupae from both types of mixed-species nests, it seems that neither close phylogenetic relatedness nor an attractive brood odor alone can account for the propensity of host workers to adopt slave-maker pupae. Significantly greater numbers of P. breviceps pupae were adopted by enslaved workers than by free-living workers, and within the enslaved groups and the free-living F. gnava group, greater numbers of P. breviceps pupae were adopted if they were from nests where the host species was conspecific to workers used in tests. When presented with F. gnava and F. occulta pupae, Formica workers adopted conspecific pupae almost exclusively and ignored or consumed pupae of the other host species. Taken together, these results imply that P. breviceps pupae have both a species-specific odor and a general brood-tending pheromone, upon which a host odor may be imposed. The disparate requirements of immatures at different stages of development for cue specificity or generality in maintaining nest exclusivity and maximizing inclusive fitness are discussed.

heterospecific brood tending slave-maker ants Polyergus breviceps Formica gnava Formica occulta 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine A. Johnson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Hunter College, and The Graduate School and University Center of the CityUniversity of New YorkNew York
  2. 2.Division of Invertebrate ZoologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew York

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