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How brood influences caste aggregation patterns in the dimorphic ant species Pheidole pallidula

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Spatial distribution of ant workers and, notably their aggregation/segregation behaviour, is a key-element of the colony social organization contributing to the efficiency of task performance and division of labour. In polymorphic species, specialized worker castes notably differ in their intrinsic aggregation behaviour. In this context, knowing the preponderant role of minors in brood care, we investigate how a stimulus such as brood can influence the spatial patterns of Pheidole pallidula worker castes. In a homogeneous area without brood, it was shown that minors display only a low level of aggregation while majors form large clusters in the central area. Here we find out that these aggregation patterns of both minors and majors can be deeply influenced by the presence of brood. For minors, it nucleates or enhances the formation of a large stable cluster. Such high sensitivity of minors to brood stimuli fits well with their role as main brood tenders in the colony. For majors, interattraction between individuals still remains the prevailing aggregation factor while brood strongly influences the localisation of their cluster. We discuss how the balance between interattraction and sensitivity to environmental stimuli determines the mobility of each worker castes and, consequently, the availability of minors and majors to participate in everyday colony tasks. Moreover, we will evoke the functional value of majors’ cluster location close to the brood, namely with respect to social regulation of the colony caste ratio.

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Correspondence to G. Sempo.

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Received 30 May 2005; revised 11 January 2006; accepted 13 January 2006.

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Sempo, G., Depickère, S. & Detrain, C. How brood influences caste aggregation patterns in the dimorphic ant species Pheidole pallidula. Insect. Soc. 53, 241–248 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-006-0864-y

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  • Pheidole
  • castes
  • division of labour
  • spatial patterns
  • brood care