Ant colony founding: Part 2

As the title suggests, this post is a direct continuation from Ant colony founding. I strongly recommend reading that post before this one as I will be using terms and phrases explained in that post. It’s also a good read and seeing my view counter tick up makes me happy so please have a read of all posts that catch your fancy.

So we left off with some game of thrones nonsense with queens being killed off by their children. Again, if you haven’t already, go read the first part. It’s a doozy. So are there systems in which queens can share a nest and live in harmony? Yes there are. Oligogyny is a system in which a colony contains multiple queens who inhabit different parts of the nest, avoiding each other. The workers tolerate all the queens in the nest but the queens would attack each other if they were to encounter each other. A great example is the carpenter ants Camponotus ligniperda. It is also a great example of how the queens are not in charge of the colony. They just start it and make babies. A majority of the decisions are made by the workers. I will cover this in a future post but its a pretty interesting concept.

Camponotus ligniperda - AntWiki
A Camponotus ligniperda Queen (Antwiki.org).

A similar but distinct colony hierarchy is Polygyny. This is similar to oligogyny but the queens are not hostile toward each other. An infamous polygynous species is the pharaoh ant, Monomorium pharaonis. Colonies can number in the thousands with a queen for every 12-13 workers which is an unusually high ration of queens. Polygyny allows colonies to grow larger, be more genetically diverse and makes a colony more robust. When a queen or colony is attacked, the loss of a queen doesn’t mean the end of a colony. It is a common trait in invasive species as the colonies are harder to eliminate. Great for the ants, terrible for all other ants. Colonies like these can also start new colonies is a very interesting way: Budding also known as Colony Fission.

The Pharaoh Ant – Monomorium Pharaonis – Linksvayer Lab
A pharaoh ant queen and workers, Monomorium Pharaonis (Luigi Pontieri).

This is a method of founding colonies which skips the stage of queens being alone and fending for themselves. A great and impressive example are Driver ants, Dorylus sp. These ants are ferocious hunters, with colonies up to 20 million individuals. They can consume over 500,000 insects a day! That is an unimaginable number. A single colony can consume over 182 million insects a year among other foods including snakes! As you do. With Foraging colonies can extend 100 m in all directions in search of food. This area cannot supply the ants with enough food. Not to mention that a lot of their food will run away. Army ants are nomadic. They move around in an attempt to avoid starving to death but eventually this become too ineficient as they wouldn’t be able to find enough food even then. So when the colony gets too big they produce more queens which attract males. This results in 2 queens. The mother and the daughter. So the workers choose one of the queens to follow and the colony peacefully splits into 2. An extreme example, many species undergo budding.

African Driver ant Queen, Dorylus sp. (Patrick Landmann).

Now we will go from a peaceful way of starting a colony to a much more sinister way of doing things: Parasitism. Now this type of parasite is different to things like tape worms as they are far less gross. A socially parasitic queen will start off normally. She will fly and her mates will die. When she has mated and shed her wings its time to start a nest. but these queens don’t dig their own. They don’t do that sort of dirty work, they’re much more into murder. They find a worker of their host species and kill it dead. Then they cover themselves in their colony’s smell and make their way into the nest. They aren’t attacked because colony members identify themselves by smell. They will then find, kill and replace the colony’s queen. Boom. Free real estate. This is temporary social parasitism as…well…the hosts don’t last long.

A parasitic Lasius umbratus queen and her yellow worker with host workers of Lasius niger (Antstore)

There are even more variations in the founding and life cycles of different species but I will cover them in the future. This post is already quite long and they don’t really fit in with today’s theme. I hope you enjoyed today’s post and I really hope you learned something. If you have any ideas on what we could cover in the future, let me know on our Facebook page. And if you want to support the blog further please consider becoming a Patron. Thanks for reading,

Alex.

Glossary

Oligogyny: A nest arrangement with multiple queens, defined by worker tolerance towards all queens in the colony and antagonism among the queens

Polygyny: The possession of multiple queens within a colony.

Budding: Part of a colony and one or more reproductive leave the mother colony to start another.

References

Berghoff, S.M., Maschwitz, U. and Linsenmair, K.E., 2003. Influence of the hypogaeic army ant Dorylus (Dichthadia) laevigatus on tropical arthropod communities. Oecologia135(1), pp.149-157.

Buczkowski, G. and Bennett, G., 2009. Colony budding and its effects on food allocation in the highly polygynous ant, Monomorium pharaonis. Ethology115(11), pp.1091-1099.

Buschinger, A., 1986. Evolution of social parasitism in ants. Trends in Ecology & Evolution1(6), pp.155-160.

Gadau, J., Gertsch, P.J., Heinze, J., Pamilo, P. and Hölldobler, B., 1998. Oligogyny by unrelated queens in the carpenter ant, Camponotus ligniperdus. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology44(1), pp.23-33.

Janzen, D.H., 1973. Evolution of polygynous obligate acacia-ants in western Mexico. The Journal of Animal Ecology, pp.727-750.

Kronauer, D.J., Schöning, C., Pedersen, J.S., Boomsma, J.J. and Gadau, J., 2004. Extreme queen‐mating frequency and colony fission in African army ants. Molecular Ecology13(8), pp.2381-2388.

Schmidt, A.M., d’Ettorre, P. and Pedersen, J.S., 2010. Low levels of nestmate discrimination despite high genetic differentiation in the invasive pharaoh ant. Frontiers in Zoology7(1), p.20.

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