Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp 2245–2257

Harvester Ants Utilize Cuticular Hydrocarbons in Nestmate Recognition


  • Diane Wagner
    • Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Nevada
  • Madeleine Tissot
    • Department of Biological SciencesStanford University
  • William Cuevas
    • Genencor International, Inc.
  • Deborah M. Gordon
    • Department of Biological SciencesStanford University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005529224856

Cite this article as:
Wagner, D., Tissot, M., Cuevas, W. et al. J Chem Ecol (2000) 26: 2245. doi:10.1023/A:1005529224856


Cuticular hydrocarbons appear to play a role in ant nestmate recognition, but few studies have tested this hypothesis experimentally with purified hydrocarbon extracts. We exposed captive colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus to small glass blocks coated with whole cuticular lipid extracts and the purified hydrocarbon portion of extracts from nestmate and nonnestmate workers. As an estimate of agonistic behavior, we measured the proportion of ants in contact with blocks that flared their mandibles. Blocks coated with cuticular extracts from nonnestmates were contacted by more workers in one of two experiments and elicited higher levels of aggression in both experiments than blocks bearing extracts from nestmates. The cuticular hydrocarbon fraction of extracts alone was sufficient to elicit agonistic behavior toward nonnestmates. The results demonstrate that harvester ants can perceive differences in cuticular hydrocarbon composition, and can use those differences in nestmate recognition.

Cuticular hydrocarbonsFormicidaeNestmate recognitionPogonomyrmex barbatus

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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000