Genetic evidence for intra- and interspecific slavery in honey ants (genus Myrmecocystus)

D. J.C. Kronauer, J. Gadau, B. Hölldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The New World honey ant species Myrmecocystus mimicus is well known for its highly stereotyped territorial tournaments, and for the raids on conspecific nests that can lead to intraspecific slavery. Our results from mitochondrial and nuclear markers show that the raided brood emerges in the raiding colony and is subsequently incorporated into the colony's worker force. We also found enslaved conspecifics in a second honey ant species, M. depilis, the sister taxon of M. mimicus, which occurs in sympatry with M. mimicus at the study site. Colonies of this species furthermore contained raided M. mimicus workers. Both species have an effective mating frequency that is not significantly different from 1. This study provides genetic evidence for facultative intra- and interspecific slavery in the genus Myrmecocystus. Slavery in ants has evolved repeatedly and supposedly by different means. We propose that, in honey ants, secondary contact between two closely related species that both exhibit intraspecific slavery gave rise to an early form of facultative interspecific slavery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-810
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1517
StatePublished - Apr 22 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Brood raiding
  • Dulosis
  • Intracolony relatedness
  • Mating frequency
  • Sociogenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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