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Pretender punishment induced by chemical signalling in a queenless ant


Animal societies are stages for both conflict and cooperation. Reproduction is often monopolized by one or a few individuals who behave aggressively to prevent subordinates from reproducing (for example, naked mole-rats1, wasps2 and ants3). Here we report an unusual mechanism by which the dominant individual maintains reproductive control. In the queenless ant Dinoponera quadriceps, only the alpha female reproduces. If the alpha is challenged by another female she chemically marks the pretender who is then punished4 by low-ranking females. This cooperation between alpha and low-rankers allows the alpha to inflict punishment indirectly, thereby maintaining her reproductive primacy without having to fight.

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Figure 1: Dominance interactions.
Figure 2: Bioassay results.
Figure 3: Chromatograms showing differences in Dufour's gland contents of workers of different ranks.
Figure 4: Discriminant analysis of Dufour's glands.


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We thank IBAMA for permission to collect Dinoponera in Brazil, and T. Clutton-Brock, M. Cobb, K. Foster, A. Hefetz, L. Keller, J. Liebig and C. Peeters for comments. T.M. was funded by a Marie Curie individual fellowship from the European Union programme Training and Mobility of Researchers.

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Correspondence to Thibaud Monnin.

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Monnin, T., Ratnieks, F., Jones, G. et al. Pretender punishment induced by chemical signalling in a queenless ant. Nature 419, 61–65 (2002).

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