Reproductive queue without overt conflict in the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata
Colonies of the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata consist of a single egg layer (queen) and a number of non–egg-laying workers. Although the queen is a docile individual, not at the top of the behavioral dominance hierarchy of the colony, she maintains complete reproductive monopoly. If the queen is lost or removed, one and only one of the workers [potential queen (PQ)] becomes hyperaggressive and will become the next queen of the colony. The PQ is almost never challenged because she first becomes hyperaggressive and then gradually loses her aggression, develops her ovaries, and starts laying eggs. Although we are unable to identify the PQ when the queen is present, she appears to be a “cryptic heir designate.” Here, we show that there is not just one heir designate but a long reproductive queue and that PQs take over the role of egg-laying, successively, without overt conflict, as the queen or previous PQs are removed. The dominance rank of an individual is not a significant predictor of its position in the succession hierarchy. The age of an individual is a significant predictor, but it is not a perfect predictor because PQs often bypass older individuals to become successors. We suggest that such a predesignated reproductive queue that is implemented without overt conflict is adaptive in the tropics, where conspecific usurpers from outside the colony, which can take advantage of the anarchy prevailing in a queenless colony and invade it, are likely to be present throughout the year.