The BBC are this morning reporting findings published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that a species of ant has been discovered that exists without sex. The team from the University of Arizona studied the insect, better known as the Amazonian ant (picture below), and found all members of the colony to be genetic clones of the the queen ant. What’s more, upon dissection their “mussel organ” had withered, apparently rendering them incapable of mating.
There are of course drawbacks to completely lacking any genetic diversity, it is certainly putting all your unfertilised eggs in one evolutionary basket. As Laurent Keller of The University of Lausanne eloquently puts it, “in a colony of clones, if one ant is susceptible to a parasite, they will all be susceptible. So if you’re asexual, you normally don’t last very long.”
But there are advantages to such a mechanism too, as Dr Anna Himler explained to the BBC, “it avoids the energetic cost of producing males, and doubles the number of reproductive females produced each generation from 50% to 100% of the offspring,” she said.
And this is where the interesting part lies. In being complete clones of their female leader not only have the ants dispensed with intercourse but they have eradicated any males of the species. It is easy to see why this notion is preferred by evolution. Life in the formicary must be so much easier since the males were cut out of existence. No farting, no belching and definitely no screaming at the TV whilst the football is on. Imagine the joy of the female Amazonian ants as they can get on with life without any arse-scratching, woman-ogling, toilet-seat-leaving-up pesky males around. Surely it’s only a matter of time before you ladies have the same idea…