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Age (Dordr). 2005 Sep;27(3):241-8. doi: 10.1007/s11357-005-2916-z. Epub 2005 Dec 31.

Long live the queen: studying aging in social insects.

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Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biology Building, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne-Dorigny, Switzerland.


Aging is a fascinating, albeit controversial, chapter in biology. Few other subjects have elicited more than a century of ever-increasing scientific interest. In this review, we discuss studies on aging in social insects, a group of species that includes ants and termites, as well as certain bee and wasp species. One striking feature of social insects is the lifespan of queens (reproductive females), which can reach nearly 30 years in some ant species. This is over 100 times the average lifespan of solitary insects. Moreover, there is a tremendous variation in lifespan among castes, with queens living up to 500 times longer than males and 10 times longer than workers (non-reproductive individuals). This lifespan polymorphism has allowed researchers to test the evolutionary theory of aging and - more recently - to investigate the proximate causes of aging. The originality of these studies lies in their use of naturally evolved systems to address questions related to aging and lifespan determination that cannot be answered using the conventional model organisms.


aging; disposable soma; evolutionary theory; social insects

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