Resource Assessment, Recruitment Behavior, and Organization of Cooperative Prey Retrieval in the Ant Formica schaufussi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
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- Robson, S.K. & Traniello, J.F.A. Journal of Insect Behavior (1998) 11: 1. doi:10.1023/A:1020859531179
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Foragers of the ant Formica schaufussi recruit nestmates to large anthropod prey and cooperatively transport the prey to the nest. The size of the group of ants retrieving prey is significantly correlated with the prey mass at the point at which the retrieval group reaches the nest entrance. To understand the mechanism involved in this “size matching” process, the regulation of retrieval group size was investigated by examining the modulatory role of trail pheromones in recruitment communication and the behavioral processes that might adjust retrieval group size to prey mass. Laboratory studies of hindgut, poison, and Dufour's gland extracts showed that the contents of the hindgut, which was determined to be the source of trail pheromone, induced recruitment and orientation behavior in ants and regulated the recruitment response of ants in the absence of any other communication signal. However, chemical mass communication alone did not appear to explain the regulation of retrieval group size. Scout ants assess whether to collect prey individually or recruit nestmates to group-retrieve 100-, 200-, or 400-mg prey but did not vary group size in relation to either the prey mass or the presence of interspecific competitors once the decision to initiate group retrieval was made. The number of recruits leaving the nest was independent of these factors and first matched prey mass during prey transport, possibly through a process of differential individual response to immobile versus mobile prey items. Unpredictable factors such as prey resistance to movement and rapidly changing degrees of interspecific competition may preclude scouts from fine-tuning the retrieval group size before it reaches the prey.