Mating triggers dynamic immune regulations in wood ant queens

J Evol Biol. 2009 Mar;22(3):564-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01664.x. Epub 2008 Dec 17.


Mating can affect female immunity in multiple ways. On the one hand, the immune system may be activated by pathogens transmitted during mating, sperm and seminal proteins, or wounds inflicted by males. On the other hand, immune defences may also be down-regulated to reallocate resources to reproduction. Ants are interesting models to study post-mating immune regulation because queens mate early in life, store sperm for many years, and use it until their death many years later, while males typically die after mating. This long-term commitment between queens and their mates limits the opportunity for sexual conflict but raises the new constraint of long-term sperm survival. In this study, we examine experimentally the effect of mating on immunity in wood ant queens. Specifically, we compared the phenoloxidase and antibacterial activities of mated and virgin Formica paralugubris queens. Queens had reduced levels of active phenoloxidase after mating, but elevated antibacterial activity 7 days after mating. These results indicate that the process of mating, dealation and ovary activation triggers dynamic patterns of immune regulation in ant queens that probably reflect functional responses to mating and pathogen exposure that are independent of sexual conflict.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / analysis
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / analysis
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / pharmacology
  • Ants / enzymology
  • Ants / immunology
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Arthrobacter / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hemolymph / chemistry
  • Hemolymph / enzymology
  • Hemolymph / immunology
  • Male
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Random Allocation
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase