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Abstract

Intracolony aggression among dealated queens of the ponerine ant Odontomachus chelifer leads to a dominance order within the colony. Behavioral domination between queens entails an array of stereotyped displays which may escalate from vigorous antennation bouts to full mandibular strikes. In extreme situations a dominant queen may also suspend her subordinate opponent, who remains in pupal posture while being lifted up. As a rule the individual initiating a contest normally wins it. Subordinate queens may assume a crouching posture at the approach of a dominant nestmate from behind, a fact suggesting that chemical cues may also play a role in the establishment of the dominance order. Behavioral performances during domination contests and the rank position of different dealated queens correlated well with the data on individual egg production, ovarian development and other parameters of division of labor within the colony. Therefore, highly-ranked queens laid more eggs, had better developed ovaries and engaged less frequently in foraging activities outside the nest. Inseminated queens occupied the top positions in the dominance structure of the colony, and accounted for most of the aggressive interactions recorded within the nest tubes. Aggression toward egg-laying queens and the destruction of newly-laid eggs were conspicuous behavioral traits in the reproductive dominance of the O. chelifer colony. High ranking dealated queens were also the ones more frequently seen attacking alate females. The latter were observed to lay eggs, and some of them had developed ovaries. Our results with Odontomachus chelifer are in accordance with the data obtained elsewhere for other ponerine ants, and provide the first demonstration of a dominance structure linked to reproductive status among queens in a functionally polygynous ant colony.