The Regulation of Worker Reproduction in the Ant <i>Aphaenogaster cockerelli</i>
The repression of reproductive competition and the enforcement of altruism are key components to the success of animal societies. Eusocial insects are defined by having a reproductive division of labor, in which reproduction is relegated to one or few individuals while the rest of the group members maintain the colony and help raise offspring. However, workers have retained the ability to reproduce in most insect societies. In the social Hymenoptera, due to haplodiploidy, workers can lay unfertilized male destined eggs without mating. Potential conflict between workers and queens can arise over male production, and policing behaviors performed by nestmate workers and queens are a means of repressing worker reproduction.
This work describes the means and results of the regulation of worker reproduction in the ant species Aphaenogaster cockerelli. Through manipulative laboratory studies on mature colonies, the lack of egg policing and the presence of physical policing by both workers and queens of this species are described. Through chemical analysis and artificial chemical treatments, the role of cuticular hydrocarbons as indicators of fertility status and the informational basis of policing in this species is demonstrated. An additional queen-specific chemical signal in the Dufour’s gland is discovered to be used to direct nestmate aggression towards reproductive competitors. Finally, the level of actual worker-derived males in field colonies is measured. Together, these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of policing behaviors on the suppression of worker reproduction in a social insect species, and provide an example of how punishment and the threat of punishment is a powerful force in maintaining cooperative societies.