At Mating Time, These Ants Carry Their Young Queen to a Neighbor’s Nest

We people have Tinder, Hinge, eHarmony and Grindr. For different animals, there’s a actual dearth of matchmaking providers, not even Bumble or Plenty of Fish.

But for future queens of 1 ant species, sterile employee ants appear to serve this operate by bodily carrying their royal sisters to neighboring nests. There, the queens-to-be can mate with unrelated male ants, in accordance to researchers in a examine printed this month in Communications Biology.

“This is quite exciting,” stated Jürgen Heinze, a zoologist on the University of Regensburg in Germany and a co-author of the examine. “It’s the first case of this assisted mate choice and assisted outbreeding that we have in animals.”

If you seemed on the floor by riverbanks on the Mediterranean, you may sometimes catch a glint of daylight reflecting off the wing of a Cardiocondyla elegans queen ant. But the queen would almost certainly not be flying, and even strolling. Instead, she could be using piggyback atop a employee ant, gripped firmly by a employee’s mandibles.

“Once you looked a lot for those colonies and for the carrying behavior, when you close your eyes in the evening, you only see these little ants moving around,” stated Mathilde Vidal, a doctoral candidate at Regensburg and lead writer of the examine.

From 2014 to 2019, the researchers mapped the situation of 175 Cardiocondyla ant colonies in Southern France and recorded 453 situations of this carrying conduct.

Though these employees are tiny — solely 2-Three millimeters in size — they’ve been noticed carrying the queens for up to nearly 50 toes from residence earlier than dropping off their sisters on the entrance of a international nest. And the employees appeared to know the place to take their sisters, touring in kind of a straight line and skipping nests that have been nearer. Genetic experiments confirmed that ants within the nests the employees selected have been much less genetically associated.

As it’s for all sexually reproducing organisms, selecting the best mating companion is a crucial determination for Cardiocondyla elegans. But this explicit species faces a explicit drawback: The male ants have misplaced their wings and stay trapped in “mating chambers” close to the nest entrance the place they usually mate with associated females. (Genetic knowledge reveals that greater than ⅔ of all matings in Cardiocondyla contain shut family.)

Excessive inbreeding may be detrimental. In a 2006 study, Dr. Heinze and his colleagues discovered that extended inbreeding in one other species of Cardiocondyla had led to unhealthier ant colonies: shorter life spans for the queen, increased offspring mortality, altered intercourse ratios.

Most ant species counteract this with outbreeding via nuptial flights — spectacular single-day occasions throughout which winged queens and males from many various colonies collect, swarm and mate in massive clouds. But Cardiocondyla elegans queens require some assist.

There can be proof that at the very least some younger queens are carried from one nest to one other, doubtlessly mating with males from a number of colonies. No younger queen ever returns to her residence nest, spending the winter as a substitute in a international nest. In spring, she is kicked out — there may be just one egg-laying queen per nest — and presumably begins a colony of her personal, beginning the cycle anew.

There is just one season of mating for these younger queens, however that’s greater than sufficient. A queen shops and preserves her mates’ sperm in a sac referred to as the spermatheca for the remainder of her life. In some species, simply two sperm cells are wanted to fertilize an egg and that’s all that the queen releases (considerably extra environment friendly than the 40 million to 150 million sperm people use to accomplish a related process).

Though the normal view of social insect society has held that the queen wields all the energy over the faceless employees beneath her, analysis is more and more exhibiting that this isn’t the case, stated Boris Baer, an entomologist on the University of California, Riverside. And this new analysis offers one more instance.

“It looks like that the workers have taken that power that they have in these societies in their own hands, and they make decisions about the mating of their sisters,” stated Dr. Baer, who was not concerned within the examine.

Still, one massive thriller stays: “We have no idea how they choose a specific colony,” Dr. Baer stated.

So far, the researchers haven’t been ready to get ants they’ve collected to carry out the carrying conduct in a managed laboratory setting. Still, the brand new analysis underscores the various ways in which residing issues on the whole and ants specifically reproduce in our world.

“Wherever I go and find a new species of Cardiocondyla, they have a different system of mating, they have a different colony structure, they have different ways of dispersal,” Dr. Heinze stated.

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