Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Ant parasite queens revert to mating singly

A parasitic ant has abandoned the multiple mating habit of the queens of its related host.


Multiple mating (polyandry) is widespread among animal groups, particularly insects1. But the factors that maintain it and underlie its evolution are hard to verify because benefits and costs are not easily quantified and they tend to be similar in related species. Here we compare the mating strategies of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex echinatior and its recently derived social parasite Acromyrmex insinuator, which is also its closest relative2 (see Fig. 1). We find that although the host queens mate with up to a dozen different males, the social parasite mates only singly. This rapid and surprising reversion to single mating in a socially parasitic ant indicates that the costs of polyandry are probably specific to a free-living lifestyle.


Small worker ants cluster around the parasite queen.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 2: The observed frequency distributions of patrilines (offspring sired by different males) of the social parasite Acromyrmex insinuator (n=13) and its host A. echinatior (n=10), as derived from genetic analysis of the progeny of single queens.


  1. Simmons, L. W. Sperm Competition and its Evolutionary Consequences in the Insects (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Sumner, S., Aanen, D. K., Delabie, J. & Boomsma, J. J. Insectes Soc. 51, 37–42 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Crozier, R. H. & Fjerdingstad, E. J. Ann. Zool. Fenn. 38, 267–285 (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Villesen, P., Murakami, T., Schultz, T. R. & Boomsma, J. J. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 269, 1541–1548 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Sumner, S., Nash, D. R. & Boomsma, J. J. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270, 1315–1322 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Sumner, S., Hughes, W. O. H. & Boomsma, J. J. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 54, 256–263 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bekkevold, D. & Boomsma, J. J. J. Evol. Biol. 13, 615–623 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Pedersen, J. S. & Boomsma, J. J. Mol. Ecol. 8, 577–587 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Ortius-Lechner, D., Gertsch, P. J. & Boomsma, J. J. Mol. Ecol. 9, 114–116 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Villesen, P., Gertsch, P. J. & Boomsma, J. J. Mol. Ecol. Notes 2, 320–322 (2002).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Chao, A. & Lee, S. M. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 87, 210–217 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jacobus J. Boomsma.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sumner, S., Hughes, W., Pedersen, J. et al. Ant parasite queens revert to mating singly. Nature 428, 35–36 (2004).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing