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Acromyrmex versicolor: Suitors Aplenty
Photo by Dale Ward
Website: Ants of Arizona
This great photo shows a group of Acromyrmex versicolor males swarming over a lone winged female (reddish ant at bottom left).
From Dale's website: "One of the more spectacular things about Acromyrmex versicolor is their mating flights. These usually occur in the summer, usually the morning after a heavy rain. The males form aerial swarms. Females fly into the swarms and fall to the ground after one or more males grabs them. Then the queen is the center of a rolling ball of males, all trying to mate with her. The ground beneath the swarms is covered with the mating ants. Eventually, the queen decides she has had enough and struggles away from the males. She may even bite at the more tenacious males. Then she flies away to start a new nest."
This species, which is one of the most xerophilic among the leafcutters reaches all the way to Arizona and California in the United States. It is also very notable because dealate females after the nuptial flight can cooperate to co-found a new colony, something also seen in Atta texana. Cofoundresses of Acromyrmex versicolor display an interesting and unusual behavior, where one of the unrelated co-founding queens becomes a foraging specialist, and takes all the risks of foraging above-ground for the group (Rissing et al 1989)! The queen assigned to do this hazardous job is seemingly not picked based on size or reproductive capabilities (as measured by ovary size). In cases where the assigned queen refuses to do her job, the entire group usually is doomed since the group delays or does not replace the specialist forager, and the fungus garden dies (Pollock et al 2004).
Pollock GB, Cabrales A, and SW Rissing (2004), On Suicidal punishment among "Acromyrmex Versicolor" Cofoundresses: the Disadvantage in Personal Advantage. Evolutionary Ecology Research, in press.
Rissing SW, Pollock GB, Higgins MR, Hagen RH, and DR Smith (1989). Foraging specialization without relatedness or dominance among co-founding ant queens. Nature 338, 420 - 422
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