We people have Tinder, Hinge, eHarmony and Grindr. For different animals, there’s an 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 with researchers in a research revealed this month in Communications Biology.
“This is quite exciting,” mentioned Jürgen Heinze, a zoologist on the University of Regensburg in Germany and a co-author of the research. “It’s the first case of this assisted mate choice and assisted outbreeding that we have in animals.”
If you regarded 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 probably not be flying, and even strolling. Instead, she could be driving 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,” mentioned Mathilde Vidal, a doctoral candidate at Regensburg and lead writer of the research.
From 2014 to 2019, the researchers mapped the placement of 175 Cardiocondyla ant colonies in Southern France and recorded 453 cases of this carrying conduct.
Though these employees are tiny — solely 2-Three millimeters in size — they’ve been noticed carrying the queens for as much as virtually 50 toes from residence earlier than dropping off their sisters on the entrance of a overseas 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 associate is a vital determination for Cardiocondyla elegans. But this explicit species faces a specific downside: 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 information reveals that greater than ⅔ of all matings in Cardiocondyla contain shut family members.)
Excessive inbreeding could 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, greater offspring mortality, altered intercourse ratios.
Most ant species counteract this with outbreeding by nuptial flights — spectacular single-day occasions throughout which winged queens and males from many various colonies collect, swarm and mate in giant clouds. But Cardiocondyla elegans queens require some assist.
There can also be proof that a minimum of some younger queens are carried from one nest to a different, probably mating with males from a number of colonies. No younger queen ever returns to her residence nest, spending the winter as an alternative in a overseas nest. In spring, she is kicked out — there could 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 known 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 perform the same process).
Though the normal view of social insect society has held that the queen wields the entire energy over the faceless employees beneath her, analysis is more and more displaying that this isn’t the case, mentioned Boris Baer, an entomologist on the University of California, Riverside. And this new analysis supplies yet 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,” mentioned Dr. Baer, who was not concerned within the research.
Still, one giant thriller stays: “We have no idea how they choose a specific colony,” Dr. Baer mentioned.
So far, the researchers haven’t been in a position to get ants they’ve collected to carry out the carrying conduct in a managed laboratory setting. Still, the brand new analysis underscores the varied ways in which residing issues basically 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 mentioned.