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Ant parasite queens revert to mating singly

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

Abstract

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.

D. R. NASH

Small worker ants cluster around the parasite queen.

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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.

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Correspondence to Jacobus J. Boomsma.

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Sumner, S., Hughes, W., Pedersen, J. et al. Ant parasite queens revert to mating singly. Nature 428, 35–36 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/428035a

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