, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 1757-1768

Gaster flagging by fire ants (Solenopsis spp.): Functional significance of venom dispersal behavior

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Abstract

Behavioral and chemical studies with laboratory colonies indicate that the imported fire antSolenopsis invicta Buren (Myrmicinae) disperses venom through the air by raising and vibrating its gaster (i.e., “gaster flagging”). This mechanism of airborne venom dispersal is unreported for any ant species. Foraging workers utilize this air-dispersed venom (up to 500 ng) to repel heterospecifics encountered in the foraging arena, while brood tenders dispense smaller quantities (∼ 1 ng) to the brood surface, presumably as an antibiotic. Brood tenders removed from the brood cell and tested in heteropspecific encounters in the foraging arena exhibited the complete repertoire of agonistic gaster flagging behavior. These observations suggest that airborne venom dispersal by workers is context specific rather than temporal caste specific and that workers can control the quantity of venom released.