Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 297–302 | Cite as

Vibrational communication between hitchhikers and foragers in leaf-cutting ants (Atta cephalotes)

  • Flavio Roces
  • Bert Hölldobler
Article

Abstract

Abstract In a foraging column of the leaf-cutting ant Atta cephalotes, minim workers (the smallest worker subcaste) “hitchhike” on leaf fragments carried by larger workers. It has been demonstrated that they defend leaf carriers against parasitic phorid flies. The present study examines the cues used by the potential hitchhikers to locate leaf carriers. As recently reported, foraging workers stridulate while cutting a leaf fragment, and the stridulatory vibrations serve as closerange recruitment signals. We tested the hypothesis that these plant-borne stridulatory vibrations are used by the potential hitchhikers to locate workers engaged in cutting. Three different lines of evidence support this view. Firstly, the repetition rate of the stridulations produced by foraging workers increases significantly as foragers maneuver the leaf fragment into the carrying position and walk loaded to the nest. This is the moment when hitchhikers usually climb on the leaf. Although the leaf-borne stridulatory vibrations are considerably attenuated when transmitted through the workers' legs, they can nevertheless be detected at short distances by minims. This subcaste is several times more sensitive to substrate-borne vibrations than larger workers. Secondly, when a “stridulating” and a “silent” leaf were simultaneously presented at the foraging site, minim workers spent significantly more time on the stridulating than on the silent leaf. Thirdly, hitchhiking was more frequent in leaf carriers which cut fragments out of the stridulating leaf than in those cutting the silent leaf.Abstract In a foraging column of the leaf-cutting ant Atta cephalotes, minim workers (the smallest worker subcaste) “hitchhike” on leaf fragments carried by larger workers. It has been demonstrated that they defend leaf carriers against parasitic phorid flies. The present study examines the cues used by the potential hitchhikers to locate leaf carriers. As recently reported, foraging workers stridulate while cutting a leaf fragment, and the stridulatory vibrations serve as closerange recruitment signals. We tested the hypothesis that these plant-borne stridulatory vibrations are used by the potential hitchhikers to locate workers engaged in cutting. Three different lines of evidence support this view. Firstly, the repetition rate of the stridulations produced by foraging workers increases significantly as foragers maneuver the leaf fragment into the carrying position and walk loaded to the nest. This is the moment when hitchhikers usually climb on the leaf. Although the leaf-borne stridulatory vibrations are considerably attenuated when transmitted through the workers' legs, they can nevertheless be detected at short distances by minims. This subcaste is several times more sensitive to substrate-borne vibrations than larger workers. Secondly, when a “stridulating” and a “silent” leaf were simultaneously presented at the foraging site, minim workers spent significantly more time on the stridulating than on the silent leaf. Thirdly, hitchhiking was more frequent in leaf carriers which cut fragments out of the stridulating leaf than in those cutting the silent leaf.

Key words

Leaf-cutting ants Atta cephalotes Foraging Stridulation Parasitism 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Flavio Roces
    • 1
  • Bert Hölldobler
    • 1
  1. 1.Theodor-Boveri-InstitutLehrstuhl für Verhaltensphysiologie und Soziobiologie der UniversitätWürzburgGermany

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