The Loh Down On Science

What ant queens hang on to for twenty years will surprise you!

Image courtesy of Stanford University News.

This will be—guaranteed—the weirdest sperm bank story you’ve ever heard.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Biologists from Stanford University have spent decades studying several hundred colonies of harvester ants in southern Arizona. In all those years, they've been tracking the family life of parent ants and their ant children.

And they've been matching up the ant families by combining their long-term observations with analysis of the ant DNA.

And, whoa, Nelly.

The scientists found that for all those colonies, just a few queen ants mate. How many times do they mate?  Just once!—then hold on to that sperm for twenty years. Or more! Maybe thirty. In a special sac that keeps the swimmers swimming.

During her entire twenty- to thirty-year lifespan, a queen produces ants to work in the colony. And all from the same original sperm.

Not only does that represent quite a bit of interest on that original sperm-bank deposit.

It also suggests that many of these ants are uncles. 

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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