A technique to artificially inseminate leafcutter ants

doi: 10.1007/s00040-012-0273-3


Artificial insemination (AI), the instrumental transfer of semen from the male to female reproductive organs, offers excellent opportunities to study mating system adaptations as it allows paternity to be experimentally manipulated. AI techniques have been developed for many animals, but rarely for ants, where they would be particularly useful as most species do not mate under controlled lab conditions. Here, we describe an AI technique for Atta leaf cutter ants involving (1) the collection of ejaculates via induction of natural ejaculation, (2) storage in glass capillaries, and (3) transfer to queens using a modified AI equip ment as used for honeybees. Queens were fixed and anesthetized in a queen holder, after which the sting chamber was opened with two steel hooks, the tip of the semen-containing glass capillary was inserted into the bursa copulatrix and the semen slowly expelled. Sperm was successfully stored in the spermatheca of queens, and some queens produced a small colony as a result. We could furthermore confirm the earlier observations that Atta semen is directly transferred to the spermatheca rather than to the bursa copulatrix as in most other eusocial insects. The technique that we present here can offer novel opportunities to study mating events such as sperm transfer, spermcompetition, and cryptic female choice in ants. At present, the number of queens that produce colonies after AI remains low. However, this number will likely increase, as our results indicate that rearing conditions after AI influence colony founding success of artificially inseminated Atta queens

Key Words

Ejaculate  Mating biology  Social insects  Spermatheca  Sperm  Seminal fluid

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