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Keywords:

  • brood sex discrimination;
  • conflict;
  • Hymenoptera;
  • Lasius;
  • sex allocation;
  • sexual deception

Abstract

Queen–worker conflicts in social insect societies have received much attention in the past decade. In many species workers modify the colony sex ratio to their own advantage or produce their own male offspring. In some other species, however, queens seem to be able to prevent workers from making selfish reproductive decisions. So far, little effort has been made to find out how queens may keep control over sex ratio and male parentage. In this study we use a Lasius niger population under apparent queen control to show that sexual deception cannot explain queen dominance in this population. The sexual deception hypothesis postulates that queens should prevent workers from discriminating against males by disguising male brood as females. Contrary to the predictions of this hypothesis, we found that workers are able to distinguish male and female larvae early in their development: in early spring workers generally placed only either female or male larvae in the uppermost chambers of the nest, although both types of larvae must have been present. At this time males were only at 11% of their final dry weight, a developmental stage at which (according to two models) workers would still have benefited from replacing queen-produced males by females or worker-produced males. This study thus demonstrates that sexual deception cannot account for the apparent queen control over colony sex ratio and male parentage in L. niger.