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In species that reproduce sexually, if an ant queen goes on a nuptial flight and does not successfully mate, will she still shed her wings and try to found a colony (although she probably won't succeed because unfertilized eggs will result in drones only)?

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Good question. I tried to find a few articles to validate my answer, but it would appear that very few professional studies have been done on the matter. One of my hobbies a few years back was ant keeping and I have had several colonies started from queens over the years, so I can share some of my personal experiences.

Anyway, back to your question. For the most part, no. An infertile queen will keep her wings and either find a safe place to lay eggs like a fertile queen or just walk aimlessly until she dies/is eaten. However, there are some rare instances where an infertile queen will shed her wings after the nuptial flight and find a safe place to nest and even in some occasions will lay eggs that are, of course, unfertilized and will therefore die or become male drones.

On the subject, the same is true vice versa. In rare instances, a fertile queen will NOT shed her wings, find a nesting place and even raise a colony all with wings on. Most of the time, however, her first workers to emerge promptly remove them.

I hope this answers your question.

CDB

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, the thought just occurred to me that, just because a species can reproduce sexually, it doesn't mean it must reproduce sexually: what if in some species, the virgin queen can still lay eggs that are just clones of herself? She would still get her army or workers. I think I have read about one species in Japan where there is no queen and all workers just lay their own eggs that are clones of themselves. So it doesn't seem like a total impossibility for queens in other species to do the same. In fact, are we even sure that queens always have enough sperm reserve for her lifetime? $\endgroup$ – Kal Aug 16 '15 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ The queenless species in question seems to be Pristomyrmex punctatus (a.k.a. Pristomyrmex pungens): researchgate.net/publication/… ant.edb.miyakyo-u.ac.jp/BE/Kingdom/2425/2425e.html $\endgroup$ – Kal Aug 16 '15 at 3:38

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