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Abstract

We test two hypotheses about regulation of the reproductive division of labour in the permanently queenless ponerine ant, Diacamma sp., from Japan. All workers emerge with gemmae (tiny innervated thoracic appendages), but only one individual keeps them in each colony, and she is the only mated reproductive worker (gamergate). The gemmae of all other workers are mutilated by the gamergate soon after their emergence, and they can never mate. In the presence of gamergate, mutilated workers have inactive ovaries and do not behave aggressively. Two possible consequences of mutilation are: 1. olfactory signal — a pheromone inhibiting the oogenesis of mutilated workers is no longer released by the gemmae; and 2. endocrine degeneration of its afferent neuronal connections interferes reproductive physiology of a gamergate. Gemmae of gamergates were coated with shellac (to prevent pheromone emission) or removed, and over three weeks we studied any changes in ovarian activity of the gamergates as well as nestmate workers. Coating of gemmae did not elicit worker oviposition, suggesting that gemmae pheromones do not have a regulatory function. Experimental mutilation of gamergates resulted in a slight increase in both the frequency of dominance interactions and the ovarian activity of mutilated workers, but this effect was much lower than in colonies where the gamergate was removed. This contrasts with the immediate change in the behaviour (aggressive to timid) of newly emerged workers following mutilation.