I heard ant eggs laid by a female (or queen?), if left unfertilized, will hatch into male ant offspring, but doesn’t that mean that the offspring should be clones of the mother and, therefore, should be female?

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I heard ant eggs laid by a female (or queen?), if left unfertilized, will hatch into male ant offspring, but doesn’t that mean that the offspring should be clones of the mother and, therefore, should be female?

In: Biology

In some species, Sex isn’t determined by the initial dna but by conditions during incubation or even during life. Alligators will vary sexes depending on the temperature of nest. There’s a fish that changes sexes during its lifetime.

Ant sex is determined by the sets of chromosomes. If they have pairs of chromosomes they are female. If they have a single set they are male. A fertilised egg has pairs of chromosomes, one set from the mother and and one from the father and thus develops into a female. An unfertilised egg has one set of chromosomes only from the mother and thus develops into a male.

Interestingly this means a male ant cannot have a son and has no father. However they can have a grandson and they have a grandfather.

Well they wouldn’t be clones, because they’d only have half of the mother’s DNA. In addition to that, the unfertilized eggs wouldn’t be genetically identical because of the swapping of genes during meiosis II.

In many animals, being male is the result of less genetic material. For some animals it’s the result of having a Y chromosome instead of 2 X chromosomes. Enzymes responsible for sexual characteristics check for the existence of certain genes in the X and Y chromosomes and if there are two copies of the X genes, female characteristics occur, if 1 X and 1 Y are found, male characteristics occur. In your example, the unfertilized eggs after a certain amount of time will replicate and grow into an ant larva. As it’s growing, the epigenetic markers will be checked, and if there’s only one set of chromosomes, the genes that will cause male characteristics will be turned on.

Fun bonus fact: This is not only the case in ants, but for pretty much the entire order Hymenoptera, which is the order that contains ants, bees, and wasps. Wasps being defined as any species in that order that cannot be classified as a bee or an ant.