Leaf-cutter antSome leaf-cutter ant lineages are more likely to become queens than other lineages; they “cheat”. These lineages are a minority, about 20%, of all leaf-cutter lineages. I’m fine with all that. What puzzles me is this quote:

“The rarity of the royal lines is actually an evolutionary strategy by the cheats to escape suppression by the altruistic masses that they exploit.”

Bill Hughes, quoted in Science Daily News. It’s not a misquote, either; the abstract of the paper in question1 says essentially the same thing:

The rarity of royal cheats is best explained as an evolutionary strategy to avoid suppression by cooperative genotypes, the efficiency of which is frequency-dependent.

What am I missing here? The strategy is successful because it’s rare, sure. Is he arguing that there is positive selection for rarity, as opposed to a strategy that is selected for when it’s rare, and selected against when it’s common?


  1. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.0710262105
    Genetic royal cheats in leaf-cutting ant societies
    William O. H. Hughes, and Jacobus J. Boomsma []