Magazine article Science News

He Clones, She Clones: Dad, Mom Ants as Different Species

Magazine article Science News

He Clones, She Clones: Dad, Mom Ants as Different Species

Article excerpt

A study of the insects called little fire ants may be as close as science gets to showing males and females as separate species.

Those species still share a name, Wasmannia auropunctata. The little fire ants live in seemingly unexceptional colonies with several queens, many sterile female workers, and a smaller number of males. Yet a genetic analysis shows that daughter queens are clones of their mother, says Denis Fournier of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. And males manage their own unusual genetic tricks, so that eggs hatching into sons end up as clones of their fathers, Fournier and his colleagues report in the June 30 Nature.

Fournier says that the researchers discovered this arrangement by chance as they collected fire ant nests from various sites in French Guiana. W. auropunctata isn't the imported red fire ant bedeviling the southern United States, but the little fire ant does sting and is spreading through the tropics to become a menace in its own right.

As the researchers studied DNA at 11 spots on little fire ant chromosomes, odd patterns emerged. In 33 out of 34 nests, queens within a particular nest matched each other's genes. Yet the sterile workers' genetic makeup didn't match that of their queens but represented the sort of mix expected from sexual reproduction.

That pattern had been previously reported in only one other ant, Cataglyphis cursor.

Fouruier proposes that because W. auropunctata males get shut out of parenting a queen, a countermeasure has evolved. …

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