Original Article

Division of labour and risk taking in the dinosaur ant, Dinoponera quadriceps (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Asher, C.L., Nascimento, F.S., Sumner, S. & Hughes, W.O.H.


Abstract: The success of social insects can be largely attributed to division of labour. In contrast to most social insects, many species with simple societies contain workers which are capable of sexual reproduction. Headed by one or a few reproductive individuals, subordinate workers form a dominance hierarchy, queuing to attain the reproductive role. In these species task allocation may be influenced by individual choice based on future reproductive prospects. Individuals with a better chance of inheriting the colony may be less likely to take risks and high-ranking workers that spend a greater amount of time in proximity to the brood may be able to increase the ability to police egg-laying by cheating subordinates. We investigated division of labour and risk taking in relation to dominance rank in the queenless ponerine ant, Dinoponera quadriceps, a species with relatively simple societies. Using behavioural observations, we show that high-ranking workers spend more time performing egg care, less time foraging and are less likely to defend the nest against attack. Highrankers also spent a greater amount of time guarding and inspecting eggs, behaviours which are likely to improve detection of egg laying by cheating subordinates. We also show that high-ranking workers spend a greater amount of time idle, which may help increase lifespan by reducing energy expenditure. Our results suggest that both risk-taking and egg- care behaviours are related to future reproductive prospects in D. quadriceps. This highlights a mechanism by which effective division of labour could have been achieved during the early stages of eusocial evolution.