Open Access: CC BY 4.0


Tsuji, K. & Dobata, S.

Year: 2011


Social cancer and the biology of the clonal ant Pristomyrmex punctatus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Journal: Myrmecological News

Volume: 15

Pages: 91-99

Type of contribution: Original Article

Supplementary material: No


We review some aspects of the biology of the ant Pristomyrmex punctatus, in which the winged queen caste is absent and wingless females reproduce by thelytokous parthenogenesis. The majority of females have two ovarioles, whereas up to 50% of colonies contain large-bodied females which have four ovarioles. We call the former workers and the latter ergatoid queens. Males are rare. Some ergatoid queens have a spermatheca, but no inseminated individual has been found so far. Castes are morphologically defined, and workers engage in asexual reproduction in all colonies regardless of the presence of ergatoid queens. In colonies containing only workers, reproductive division of labor is regulated by age-polyethism: All young workers reproduce and fulfill inside-nest roles, and old workers become sterile and fulfill outside-nest roles. Colonies are founded by fission or budding, and consequently neighboring colonies are often related. Nevertheless, populations are multi-colonial, with strong hostility among neighboring colonies. A genetic analysis revealed that colonies often have multiple genotypes (parthenogenetic lineages), and suggested that the majority of those lineages can produce both workers and ergatoid queens. However, a lineage in a population in central Japan produces only ergatoid queens. We define these queens as cheaters, as they fulfill no other task than oviposition and therefore depend on the work force of other non-cheater lineages. Ergatoid queens in cheater lineages have three distinct ocelli, but those in non-cheater lineages usually have zero to two. As cheaters are likely to be horizontally transmitted, we draw an analogy to transmissible cancers. The coexistence of cheaters and non-cheaters is discussed in the frameworks of multilevel selection in the short term, and local extinction-immigration in the long term. However, many things remain to be studied, such as the developmental origin of the ergatoid queens, the frequency of sexual reproduction, and how colony identity is maintained.

Open access, licensed under CC BY 4.0. © 2011 The Author(s).

Key words:

Clonal ant, cheating, social cancer, genetic caste determination, parthenogenesis, ergatoid queen, colony discrimination, review.

Publisher: The Austrian Society of Entomofaunistics

ISSN: Print: 1994-4136 - Online: 1997-3500