Ant colonies are rife with royal corruption and nepotism, scientists have discovered. New research has shattered the myth that ants work equally for the benefit of the whole colony, and that every larvae is born with an equal chance of becoming a queen, rather than a worker.

It was thought that queens were produced solely by nurture, with some larvae given extra food to help their development.

DNA fingerprinting techniques, however, have revealed that a 'royal line' of males pass on a genetic advantage to their offspring that means they are more likely to become a queen.

The males passing on the "royal gene" to their offspring apparently limit their procreation to better escape detection by the rest of the colony.

Otherwise, according to William Hughes of the University of Leeds, who led the research, they could face a workers' revolution.

He said: "The most likely explanation has to be that the ants are deliberately taking steps to avoid detection.

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

Dr Hughes and Professor Jacobus Boomsma, of the University of Copenhagen, studied five colonies of leaf-cutting ants for a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their findings debunk the notion that an ant colony is an egalitarian society.

Dr Hughes said: "When studying social insects like ants and bees, it is often the co-operative aspect of their society that first stands out.

"However, when you look more deeply, you can see there is conflict and cheating - and obviously human society is also a prime example of this.

"It was thought that ants were an exception, but our genetic analysis has shown that their society is also rife with corruption - and it's royal corruption at that."