Near-infrared spectroscopy identifies the colony and nest of origin of weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina


The ability of social insects to differentiate between colony members and others is essential for the survival of the colony. It enables individuals to direct altruistic behavior towards colony mates, while protecting the colony from intruders. Colonies have a distinct chemical signature that facilitates colony-mate recognition. However, in large polydomous colonies, this signal is likely to be modified by factors unique to each nest. We demonstrate, using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), that individual weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, can be differentiated with respect to their colony and nest of origin. 76.5% of individuals from four colonies could be correctly assigned to their colony of origin; and 79.6% of individuals could be assigned to the correct nest (of two) within their colony. Despite the differences between nests within colonies, in most cases individuals from one nest were more similar to individuals from the other nest within the colony than they were to individuals from any nest outside the colony. Therefore, a distinctive colony identity is maintained despite differences between nests within colonies. We discuss the advantages of using NIRS as a faster and less expensive alternative to the analysis of cuticular hydrocarbons following extraction and identification with gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy.

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Correspondence to P. S. Newey.

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Received 26 November 2007; revised 22 January 2008; accepted 25 January 2008.

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Newey, P.S., Robson, S.K.A. & Crozier, R.H. Near-infrared spectroscopy identifies the colony and nest of origin of weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina . Insect. Soc. 55, 171–175 (2008).

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  • Colony odour
  • near-infrared spectroscopy
  • nestmate recognition
  • Oecophylla smaragdina
  • weaver ants