Nest-founding in Acromyrmex octospinosus (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Attini): demography and putative prophylactic behaviors
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- Fernández-Marín, H., Zimmermann, J.K. & Wcislo, W.T. Insectes Soc. (2003) 50: 304. doi:10.1007/s00040-003-0687-z
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Foundresses of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex octospinosus in central Panamá forage for leaves as garden substrate (semi-claustral foundation). The fungal pellet and substrate usually are attached to rootlets, which are used as a platform for the garden. This arrangement keeps the garden suspended away from the earthen chamber of the underground nest during early colony growth, and we hypothesize that it serves to minimize contact between the garden and contaminants. A. octospinosus foundresses produce from 3 to 7 workers in 2.7 months after founding the nest, but workers do not forage for substrate at this time. Incipient nests died or were abandoned at a monthly rate of ca. 50%. We show that ants routinely clean their legs before manipulating the garden substrate. We also describe how foundresses use their fore-legs to rub the surface of the metapleural gland (MPG), and they then use typical grooming behaviors to pass the forelegs through the mouthparts, after which the ant then licks the garden substrate. Similarly, ants apparently use their mouths to transfer fecal droplets to their legs. We briefly discuss the functional significance of these grooming behaviors, and hypothesize that they are prophylactic behaviors that may help the foundress maintain a hygienic garden.