International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI2018), August 5-10, 2018 in Guarujá, Brazil.

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Hairs distinguish castes and sexes: Identifying the early ontogenetic building blocks of a fungus-farming superorganism

Author(s):
Rasmus Stenbak Larsen, Rachelle M.M. Adams , Nicoletta Stylianidi , Dave Cheung , Bitao Qiu , Guojie Zhang , Rasmus Stenbak Larsen , Jacobus Jan Boomsma
Institution(s):
Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen; Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Museum of Biological Diversity, USA ; Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ; Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ; Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ; Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ; Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark ; Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
The ants are among the best-studied insects, but the morphology and development of their larvae is rarely studied in a systematic manner. Precise information on larval development is needed not only to understand individual developmental processes of caste phenotypes, but ultimately also to allow a better understanding of the integrated development of entire ant colonies where an inseminated founding queen can be considered as germ-line, her cohorts of unmated workers as soma, and the colony’s winged gyne and male reproductives as gametes. Here we present a comprehensive survey of egg and larval morphology of the fungus-growing ant Acromyrmex echinatior, documenting the four instars of large and small workers and the five instars of gyne and male larvae. We use a combination of quantitative traits (body length, body curvature, hair patterning; head to body ratio) and binary traits (presence/absence of anchor-tipped hairs, gut full/empty, head moving or not), and we document variation across the instars and sexes for 251 individuals with automontage and scanning electron microscope images. We discuss the challenges involved in the type of research reported here and the opportunities for addressing new research questions when sex-specific and caste-specific larval instars of ants can be assessed routinely.
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