Nestmate recognition in ants is possible without tactile interaction
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- Brandstaetter, A.S., Endler, A. & Kleineidam, C.J. Naturwissenschaften (2008) 95: 601. doi:10.1007/s00114-008-0360-5
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Ants of the genus Camponotus are able to discriminate recognition cues of colony members (nestmates) from recognition cues of workers of a different colony (non-nestmates) from a distance of 1 cm. Free moving, individual Camponotus floridanus workers encountered differently treated dummies on a T-bar and their behavior was recorded. Aggressive behavior was scored as mandibular threat towards dummies. Dummies were treated with hexane extracts of postpharyngeal glands (PPGs) from nestmates or non-nestmates which contain long-chain hydrocarbons in ratios comparable to what is found on the cuticle. The cuticular hydrocarbon profile bears cues which are essential for nestmate recognition. Although workers were prevented from antennating the dummies, they showed significantly less aggressive behavior towards dummies treated with nestmate PPG extracts than towards dummies treated with non-nestmate PPG extracts. In an additional experiment, we show that cis-9-tricosene, an alkene naturally not found in C. floridanus’ cuticular profile, is behaviorally active and can interfere with nestmate recognition when presented together with a nestmate PPG extract. Our study demonstrates for the first time that the complex multi-component recognition cues can be perceived and discriminated by ants at close range. We conclude that contact chemosensilla are not crucial for nestmate recognition since tactile interaction is not necessary.