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Desert Diary
Arthropods/Love Triangle


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Colonial ants have long been fascinating to scientists and non-professionals alike, and rightly so. After all, here we have thousands of individuals acting essentially as though they were one super organism under the command, so to speak, of a single individual, the queen. As the sole reproductive female in most kinds of colonial ants, the fate of the colony rests largely on the genetics of her and her ephemeral consort.

Now there comes a new twist. It seems that some species of a Southwestern genus of ants has three sexes instead of the usual two. In most ants, the queen and the workers share the same genes, with differences among the various castes within the ant hill being due to differences in nutrition and other environmental factors. But in these newly investigated species, the queen must mate with males of her own genetic strain to produce new queens but accept sperm from a male of a different genetic strain in order to produce workers. Ah for the good old days when a love triangle meant something entirely different! pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.