Division of labor in Ponera pennsylvannica (Formicidae: Ponerinae)

S. C. Pratt, N. F. Carlin, P. Calabi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


We examined division of labor and colony demography in the ant Ponera pennsylvannica. Observation of three colonies with individually marked workers revealed a high degree of interindividual behavioral variation and a rough but consistent division of labor between brood tenders and foragers. This division was present both in colonies consisting entirely of workers produced in the previous summer and in colonies containing freshly eclosed ants. Two colonies showed typical age-based polyethism, with young ants focusing on brood care and overwintered ants on foraging. No such age basis was detected in the third colony. This difference may relate to variability in brood production schedules. Colonies showing temporal polyethism had two peaks of brood production and thus had relatively large brood populations when the first young workers eclosed, while the third colony had only one peak and little brood for the young workers to tend. Even if young ants have a lower threshold for brood care, it may have been concealed in the latter situation. Demographic data indicate that natural colonies produce one brood per year and that workers typically eclose into colonies with relatively low brood care demands. This suggests that overwintered workers do most of a colony's work and that the division of labor among overwintered ants is the more important one under natural conditions. The basis of this division is as yet unknown. These results also suggest that small colony size, univoltine brood schedule and a close association between foraging and brood care do not preclude division of labor among specialized castes, as has been suggested for another ponerine species (Traniello 1978).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Ant
  • Ponerinae
  • caste
  • division of labor
  • polyethism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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