Hail to the Queens – the polygyne fire ant

4 Oct
Multiple queens from a polygyne fire ant colony (Solenopsis invicta).

Multiple queens from a polygyne fire ant colony (Solenopsis invicta).

Different species of ants employ a variety of social strategies.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, some species of ants form vast colonies of millions of workers, while others maintain smaller social structures of only a few hundred ants (or even less!).  Queens of some species mate singly, while others mate multiply, allowing them to produce half-sibling workers from multiple ‘patrilines’and increase the genetic diversity of the colony.  Although colonies of social insects are most famously known for a s ingle reproductive queen (monogyne colonies), a number of species of ants have multiple queens in each colony (polygyne colonies).

Fire ants are an interesting example to consider.  In their native South American range they are strictly monogyne, and extremely territorial and aggressive towards other fire ants.  However, the fire ants introduced into the United States developed multiple queens sometime during the course of their introduction, and polygyne colonies of fire ants make up the majority of the US population.  Queen numbers can range from a few to hundreds of queens, and fire ants may even accept unrelated queens into the colony.  The acceptance of multiple queens also corresponds to a decrease in aggressiveness and territoriality towards other polygyne fire ant colonies.  This has been suggested as a contributor to the rapid spread of fire ants across the southern US.


6 Responses to “Hail to the Queens – the polygyne fire ant”

  1. Yannick Wurm March 7, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    Dear Alison,
    thanks for posting so many great photos on your blog.
    Something grabbed my attention in your post on polygyne fire ants:Polygynes are also found in South America (but they do tend to be more territorial than in North America). Check for example the following:


    Kind regards,


    • 6legs2many March 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

      Good job, you caught me over-simplifying! 🙂
      You’re correct that there are polygyne fire ants in South America; however, as I understand it the social structure is still notably different. As the article discusses, it tends to be small groups of closely related queens that co-found a colony (one of the most dangerous and difficult tasks for any ant queen.) In the US polygynous colonies can have dozens of unrelated queens, and will also accept new queens into the colony. Interestingly, the regulatory genetics seems to be conserved across the continents (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/295/5553/328.abstract?sid=8f229a9e).
      I appreciate the comments and the article!

  2. Bruno May 30, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Hello, I’m Bruno, from Brazil.

    I have a blog about ant’s (http://adoroformigas.mirmecolismo.com.br) and I’d like to post some of your articles (translated to portuguese).

    I’m here to ask for your permission. I’ll put a reference link.

    Thank you, Bruno.

    • 6legs2many May 30, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

      Hi Bruno,
      Absolutely! As long as I get a link back I’m happy to see my stuff anywhere. I’m glad you like the articles enough to want to translate them.

      I like your site. I hadn’t realized spanish and portuguese were similar enough that I’d mostly be able to follow the language.


  3. Bruno May 30, 2011 at 11:57 am #



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