Mating-Associated Changes in the Behaviour of Leptothorax gredleri Ant Queens



Abel Bernadou, Biologie I, Universität Regensburg, Universitätsstraße 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany.



Throughout their lives, animals adapt their behaviour to environmental fluctuations and to their own requirements. In social insects, behavioural changes are often particularly conspicuous. For example, in many ant species, reproductive sexuals leave their maternal nests and engage in risky mating and dispersal activities. Female sexuals experience, during a short period of time, dramatic changes in terms of behaviour and environmental conditions. But because sexual activities of ants are not easily observed, few studies have quantified in detail how behaviour alters with maturation and mating. We studied how various behavioural traits of Leptothorax gredleri female sexuals, a species in which female sexuals attract males by ‘female calling’, change before and after mating. We tested the hypothesis that behavioural variation reflects the altered requirements of queens to adapt to a particular situation. To this end, we compared geotactic, phototactic and locomotor behaviour across a wide range of life stages from lightly coloured, unmated female sexuals to old, mated queens. The results showed that female sexuals of L. gredleri change conspicuously their geotactic, phototactic and locomotor behavioural traits over their life stages. Three different behavioural states were evident (1) from light to dark female sexuals, individuals have negative phototaxis and reduced locomotor activity; (2) mature female sexuals during the daily period of sexual activity have strong phototaxis, negative geotaxis and an important locomotor activity; and (3) freshly mated and old mated queens avoid light and decrease their locomotor activity. These sharp differences in behaviour between stages match the transition from the relative safety of the nest chamber to the adversary world outside the nest, and back.