A new eusocial vertebrate?

  • Foster K
  • Ratnieks F
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Insect eusociality is well known and is characterized by individuals (workers) that forgo direct reproduction to rear siblings. In most eusocial species, workers and reproductives (i.e. queens) are morphologically distinct and, in some species, such as the fire ant Solenopsis invicta, the workers are permanently sterile. In verte- brates, young naked mole rats Heterocephalus glaber are the workers and, later in life, some of the workers become breeders. In females, this switch involves a morphological change with elongation of lumbar vertebrae to enable enhanced fertility. Recent data show that distinct repro- ductive and helping strategies also occur in a more familiar vertebrate species, but in the reverse temporal sequence to mole rats. In mid-adult life, half the breeders become physiologically incapable of reproducing and help their close relatives. Uniquely for a vertebrate, the helpers are permanently sterile. What species is this? It is our own.

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  • Kevin R. Foster

  • F. L W Ratnieks

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