Perennial social insects are characterized by the extraordinarily long lifespan of their reproductive females, which may be tens or hundreds of times larger than that of non-social insects of similar body size and also greatly surpasses that of conspecific non-reproductives. Evolutionary theories of aging explain this phenomenon from the low extrinsic mortality queens experience once they have successfully established their colony. The aim of our review is to summarize recent findings on the ultimate and proximate causes of increased queen longevity in social insects, in particular ants and honey bees. While progress is being made in elucidating the interrelations between the vitellogenin, juvenile hormone, fecundity, and senescence, we feel that the explanation for the comparatively short lifespan of queens in multi-queen societies is as yet not satisfactory and needs further attention, both concerning its proximate and ultimate basis.
(c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel.