Among social Hymenoptera, only some ant genera have more than one morphological kind of non-reproductive adults. Individuals that are bigger than ordinary workers can function for defence and/or food storage. In Crematogaster (. Orthocrema) smithi from Arizona, a third caste exists in addition to winged queens and workers; it is intermediate in size, weight and morphology, and individuals lay many unfertilized eggs that are mostly eaten by larvae (. Heinze et al., 1995, 1999). We studied another three species belonging to the subgenus Orthocrema: Crematogaster pygmaea from Brazil, Crematogaster biroi and Crematogaster schimmeri from Taiwan. Using scanning electron microscopy and ovarian dissections, we show that 'intermediates' are a patchwork of queen-like and worker-like traits, just as in C. smithi; importantly the combinations differ across species. 'Intermediates' are numerically few in the colonies, and in C. pygmaea they are produced seasonally. Using histology we confirmed the lack of a spermatheca, thus they are not ergatoid queens. Based on the similarity of their mosaic phenotypes with those in other ant lineages, we suggest that Orthocrema 'intermediates' are a soldier caste with a specialized trophic function. This soldier caste has been reported in other Orthocrema species from Madagascar, Guinea and Costa Rica, suggesting that it is widespread in this subgenus.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Developmental Biology
- Insect Science