Rare All-Female Ant Colony Procreates By Cloning Discovered

Annika Harris | May 1, 2009 - 2:00 pm

An Amazonian ant colony has done away with sex, preferring to reproduce via cloning. Queen ants replicate themselves to produce genetically identical daughters. Biologist Ann Himler of the University of Arizona and her team were studying the ants’ ability to cultivate crops. This particular species, Mycocepurus smithii, is able to grow a greater number of fungi crops, which are used for nutrition, than other farmer ant species, said Himler. “When we started to study this species more closely, we just weren’t finding any males. That’s when we started to look at them in a different way.” The researchers discovered through DNA “fingerprinting” that the ants were exact clones of the colony’s queen and dissection showed they were virtually incapable of sexual reproduction because an essential part of their reproductive system had degenerated. A “world without sex” does have its advantages: “It avoids the energetic cost of producing males, and doubles the number of reproductive females produced each generation from 50% to 100% of the offspring,” said Himler. She thinks it could be an advantage for the ants to reproduce asexually because they don’t have to operate under the normal constraints of sexual reproduction. But these ants are more susceptible to disease because what can kill one, can kill them all, since each has the same immune system. Laurent Keller, an expert in social insects who wasn’t involved in the study, said social ants may be more suited to reproducing through cloning because it allows the queen bee to control the colony’s caste and sex of all the offspring.

An all-female society sounds like hell, but it could be an answer for women who want to reproduce but can’t find a mature man ready to commit. [BBC News]