Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A battle for ant sperm

29.10.2014

And you thought the sexual battles between people could get weird and fierce? Try ants.

In a new study, biologists at the University of Vermont have discovered some queen ants that make sexual bondage into a life and death fight.


The red queen in the middle is mating with the upside-down male on the right. Their copulatory organs are locked in place, so the male can completely let go of the queen with his legs and still be firmly attached. The ant on the left is a competitor male trying to get in on the action.

Credit: Michael Herrmann and Sara Helms Cahan

In a discovery new to science, their research shows that sexual conflict between two species can drive an evolutionary bedroom-battle royal, leading to competing adaptations in which female ants of one species manage to manhandle sperm away from the unwitting males of a different species during intercourse. The study was published in the October 29 online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In the desert along the Arizona/New Mexico border, the scientists observed mating between two species of Pogonomyrmex harvester ants that are known to hybridize. The queens of one species will happily mate with males of another species. But these queens have a trick in their antly boudoir: they only use this sperm from the other species to produce sterile worker ants that they need to build their colonies.

This, you might imagine, isn't what the male ants are hoping will happen with their precious seed. Sure, these males will produce lots of daughters via this queen, but these daughters will be sterile and "so they'll have no grandchildren," says Sara Helms Cahan, a biologist at UVM who co-led the study with her graduate student and lead author Michael Herrmann.

Sterile offspring are directly contrary to the males' long-term evolutionary interest in passing on their genes. So why do these males agree to hook up with these queens in the first place? In the field studies, Herrmann observed that the males—in the once-a-year mad scrum of competitive mating that these harvester ants exhibit following summer monsoon rains—didn't seem able to distinguish queens of their own species from queens of the other species. That is, they couldn't tell them apart until they began to copulate.

Then—perhaps a bit like other dawnings of awareness among males of a well-known species in the middle of the sex act—the male ants figure out they've made a big mistake. Realizing that they have mated with the wrong species, they get clever, and reduce the rate at which they transfer their sperm into these crosstown queens. "They can mate again," Helms Cahan explains, "so this would preserve their sperm for investment into better mating."

But the queens will not be jilted so easily. They have evolved another trick to counteract the males' strategy: hold on and don't let go. "They lock slow males in copula significantly longer," says Helms Cahan, "until they eventually deliver the same amount of sperm that they normally would have." Score one for the queens.

"Essentially, they are sperm parasites," she says.

The new ant study is a "rather unusual R-rated example," Helms Cahan says, of a larger biological phenomenon called the Red Queen hypothesis. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland—who says, "you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place"—the theory proposes that many plants and animals must constantly adapt and evolve not just to gain reproductive advantage but also to simply avoid extinction when competing against opposing, and also-evolving, organisms in the endless shifting of life.

"In this harvester ant system there really needs to be some sort of stalemate," Herrmann explains, "because if the males actually were able to tell what type of female they were mating with, they would cut off the sperm to the queens that need it." Then the system would collapse because these queens have evolved to only be able to produce workers with sperm of the other species, but not their own.

There is "a conflict of interests," the scientists write in the journal article "as queens must mate with both lineages to produce both daughter queens and the workforce to care for them, but males gain fitness returns only by mating with queens of their own lineage."

The new study is also a powerful illustration of the fact that in the wider biological world, "females are not just passive players in reproduction," Helms Cahan says, "they have their own distinct evolutionary interests, and are just as capable of imposing those interests on their partners when conditions warrant."

Joshua Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uvm.edu/

Further reports about: ants biological world female produce sexual sexual conflict species sperm sterile summer monsoon

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals
23.08.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Treating arthritis with algae
23.08.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers devise microreactor to study formation of methane hydrate

23.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

ShAPEing the future of magnesium car parts

23.08.2017 | Automotive Engineering

New insights into the world of trypanosomes

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>