Production of sexuals in a fission-performing ant: Dual effects of queen pheromones and colony size

Raphaël Boulay*, Abraham Hefetz, Xim Cerdá, Séverine Devers, Wittko Francke, Robert Twele, Alain Lenoir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Models based on the kin selection theory predict that in social hymenopterans, queens may favor a lower investment in the production of sexuals than workers. However, in perennial colonies, this conflict may be tuned down by colony-level selection because of the trade off between colony survival and reproductive allocation. In this study, we present a survey of sexual production in colonies of Aphaenogaster senilis, a common species of ant in the Iberian Peninsula. Similar to most species that reproduce by fission, males were found in large excess compared to gynes (172:1). Sexuals were more likely to be found in queenless than in queenright (QR) field colonies. However, we also found a few gynes and numerous males in very large QR colonies. We compared these data with those available in the literature for A. rudis, a congeneric species from North America that has independent colony founding. The sex ratio in this species was only five males for each female, and sexuals were mostly found in QR nests, irrespective of colony size. We confirmed queen inhibition of sexual production in A. senilis in laboratory experiments and provide evidence that this inhibition is mediated by a nonvolatile pheromone. To seek the potential source of such a queen pheromone, we analyzed the secretions of two conspicuous exocrine glands, the Dufour's and postpharyngeal glands (DG and PPG, respectively) in both queens and workers. Both secretions were composed of hydrocarbons, but that of DG also contained small quantities of tetradecanal and hexadecanal. The hydrocarbon profile of the DG and PPG showed notable caste specificity suggesting a role in caste-related behavior. The PPG secretions also differed between colonies suggesting its role in colony-level recognition. We suggest that in A. senilis, there are two modes of colony fission: First, in very large colonies, gynes are produced, probably because of the dilution of the queen pheromone, and consequently one or more gynes leave the mother colony with workers and brood to found a new nest. This is beneficial at the colony level because it avoids the production of costly sexuals in small colonies. However, because the queen and workers have different optima for sexual production, we hypothesize that queens tend to overproduce the pheromone to delay their production. This in turn may drive workers to leave the mother colony during nest relocation and to produce sexuals once they are away from the queen's influence, creating a second mode of colony fission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1531-1541
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 2007


  • Colony fission
  • Queen pheromones
  • Reproductive conflict
  • Sexual production


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