In insect societies, workers cooperate but may also pursue their individual interests, such as laying viable male eggs. The case of obligatory slave-making ants is of particular interest because workers do not engage in maintenance activities and foraging. Therefore, worker egg laying is expected to be less detrimental for colony efficiency than in related, nonparasitic species. Furthermore, as slave-making workers usually do not perform brood care and thus might have little power in manipulating sex allocation, they might be more strongly selected to increase their direct fitness by producing their own sons than workers in nonparasitic species. In this study we investigated worker reproduction in four natural colonies of the slave-making ant Polyergus rufescens, using highly variable microsatellite markers. Our results show that workers produce up to 100% of the males. This study thus presents the first direct evidence of an almost complete takeover of male reproduction by workers in ants.
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Vol. 59 • No. 11