Egg Cannibalism in a Facultative Polygynous Ant: Conflict for Reproduction or Strategy to Survive?


Renée Fénéron, Laboratoire d’Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée (CNRS UMR 7153), Université Paris-Nord, 99 Avenue J.-B. Clément, 93430 Villetaneuse, France.


Policing, i.e. all behaviours that prevent a nestmate from reproducing, is currently observed in social insects. It is presumed to have evolved to regulate potential conflicts generated by genetic asymmetries or to enhance colony efficiency by avoiding surplus reproductives and brood. In the ant, Ectatomma tuberculatum, individual queen fecundity was similar in monogynous and polygynous colonies issued from a Mexican population. Egg cannibalism, however, occurred in the polygynous colonies. The stealing and destruction of reproductive queen-laid eggs involved only nestmate queens, even if they were highly related. No queen appeared to monopolize reproduction in the polygynous colonies. But, the observed value of relatedness among workers differed from the expected value, suggesting an unequal sharing of reproduction between queens. We discussed whether the cannibalism of queen-laid eggs in E. tuberculatum results from a competition for reproduction among queens or if this phenomenon is related to constraints on nutritional resources.