Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 251–260 | Cite as

Intraspecific nestmate recognition in two parabiotic ant species: acquired recognition cues and low inter-colony discrimination

  • F. Menzel
  • T. Schmitt
  • N. BlüthgenEmail author
Research Article


Parabiotic ants—ants that share their nest with another ant species—need to tolerate not only conspecific nestmates, but also nestmates of a foreign species. The parabiotic ants Camponotus rufifemur and Crematogaster modiglianii display high interspecific tolerance, which exceeds their respective partner colony and extends to alien colonies of the partner species. The tolerance appears to be related to unusual cuticular substances in both species. Both species possess hydrocarbons of unusually high chain lengths. In addition, Cr. modiglianii carries high quantities of hereto unknown compounds on its cuticle. These unusual features of the cuticular profiles may affect nestmate recognition within both respective species as well. In the present study, we therefore examined inter-colony discrimination within the two parabiotic species in relation to chemical differentiation. Cr. modiglianii was highly aggressive against workers from alien conspecific colonies in experimental confrontations. In spite of high inter-colony variation in the unknown compounds, however, Cr. modiglianii failed to differentiate between intracolonial and allocolonial unknown compounds. Instead, the cuticular hydrocarbons functioned as recognition cues despite low variation across colonies. Moreover, inter-colony aggression within Cr. modiglianii was significantly influenced by the presence of two methylbranched alkenes acquired from its Ca. rufifemur partner. Ca. rufifemur occurs in two varieties (‘red’ and ‘black’) with almost no overlap in their cuticular hydrocarbons. Workers of this species showed low aggression against conspecifics from foreign colonies of the same variety, but attacked workers from the respective other variety. The low inter-colony discrimination within a variety may be related to low chemical differentiation between the colonies. Ca. rufifemur majors elicited significantly more inter-colony aggression than medium-sized workers. This may be explained by the density of recognition cues: majors carried significantly higher quantities of cuticular hydrocarbons per body surface.


Camponotus rufifemur Crematogaster modiglianii Cuticular hydrocarbons Interspecific associations Nestmate recognition cues 



We are grateful to Heike Feldhaar and Annett Endler for fruitful discussions and support in the GC-FID analysis. The Malaysian Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Danum Valley Management Committee (DVMC) kindly gave permission for our research, and Dr. Arthur Chung (Forest Research Center, Sepilok) functioned as our local collaborator. This study complies with current laws of Malaysia. F.M. was supported by a doctoral fellowship of the Bayerische Graduiertenförderung (BayEFG) and the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. This work was also supported by the Sonderforschungsbereich SFB-554 ‘Mechanisms and Evolution of Arthropod Behaviour’ of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).


  1. Aitchinson J. 1986. The Statistical Analysis of Compositional Data: Monographs in Statistics and Applied Probability. Chapman and Hall, London. 416 ppGoogle Scholar
  2. Boulay R., Hefetz A., Soroker V. and Lenoir A. 2000. Camponotus fellah colony integration: worker individuality necessitates frequent hydrocarbon exchanges. Anim. Behav. 59: 1127–1133PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brandstaetter A.S., Endler A. and Kleineidam C.J. 2008. Nestmate recognition in ants is possible without tactile interaction. Naturwissenschaften 95: 601–608PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carlin N.F. and Hölldobler B. 1986. The kin recognition system of carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) I. Hierarchical cues in small colonies. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 19: 123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Errard C., Regla J.I. and Hefetz A. 2003. Interspecific recognition in Chilean parabiotic ant species. Insect. Soc. 50: 268–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Foitzik S., Sturm H., Pusch K., D’Ettorre P. and Heinze J. 2007. Nestmate recognition and intraspecific chemical and genetic variation in Temnothorax ants. Anim. Behav. 73: 999–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gibbs A. and Pomonis J.G. 1995. Physical properties of insect cuticular hydrocarbons: The effects of chain lengths, methyl branching and unsaturation. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. 112B: 243–249Google Scholar
  8. Heinze J., Foitzik S., Hippert A. and Hölldobler B. 1996. Apparent dear-enemy phenomenon and environment-based recognition cues in the ant Leptothorax nylanderi. Ethology 102: 510–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hölldobler B. and Wilson E.O. 1990. The Ants. Springer, Berlin. 732 ppGoogle Scholar
  10. Holway D.A., Lach L., Suarez A.V., Tsutsui N.D. and Case T.J. 2002. The causes and consequences of ant invasions. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 33: 181–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lahav S., Soroker V. and Hefetz A. 1999. Direct behavioral evidence for hydrocarbons as ant recognition discriminators. Naturwissenschaften 86: 246–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lambardi D., Dani F.R., Turillazzi S. and Boomsma J.J. 2007. Chemical mimicry in an incipient leaf-cutting ant social parasite. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 61: 843–851CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lenoir A., Fresneau D., Errard C. and Hefetz A. 1999. Individuality and colonial identity in ants: the emergence of a social representation concept. In: Information Processing in Social Insects (Detrain C., Pasteels J.M. and Deneubourg J.L., Eds), Birkhäuser, Basel. pp 219–237Google Scholar
  14. Liang D. and Silverman J. 2000. “You are what you eat”: Diet modifies cuticular hydrocarbons and nestmate recognition in the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. Naturwissenschaften 87: 412–416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Liu Z.B., Bagnères A.G. and Yamane S. 2001. Intra-colony, inter-colony and seasonal variations of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in Formica japonica (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insect. Soc. 48: 342–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Menzel F., Blüthgen N. and Schmitt T. 2008a. Tropical parabiotic ants: Highly unusual cuticular substances and low interspecific discrimination. Front. Zool. 5: 16PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Menzel F., Linsenmair K.E. and Blüthgen N. 2008b. Selective interspecific tolerance in tropical CrematogasterCamponotus associations. Anim. Behav. 75: 837–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Menzel F., Blüthgen N., Beuerle T. and Schmitt T. (submitted): Novel cuticular substances in parabiotic ants function as interspecific appeasement signalsGoogle Scholar
  19. Nielsen J., Boomsma J.J., Oldham N.J., Petersen H.C. and Morgan E.D. 1999. Colony-level and season-specific variation in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of individual workers in the ant Formica truncorum. Insect. Soc. 46: 58–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Orivel J., Errard C. and Dejean A. 1997. Ant gardens: Interspecific recognition in parabiotic ant species. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 40: 87–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. R Development Core Team 2007. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna, R Foundation for Statistical Computing 2007
  22. Richard F.J., Hefetz A., Christides J.P. and Errard C. 2004. Food influence on colonial recognition and chemical signature between nestmates in the fungus-growing ant Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus. Chemoecology 14: 9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sorvari J., Theodora P., Turillazzi S., Hakkarainen H. and Sundström L. 2008. Food resources, chemical signaling, and nest mate recognition in the ant Formica aquilonia. Behav. Ecol. 19: 441–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Steiner F.M., Schlick-Steiner B.C., Moder K., Stauffer C., Arthofer W., Buschinger A., Espadaler X., Christian E., Einfinger K., Lorbeer E., Schafellner C., Ayasse M. and Crozier R.H. 2007. Abandoning aggression but maintaining self-nonself discrimination as a first stage in ant supercolony formation. Curr. Biol. 17: 1903–1907PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Suarez A.V., Holway D.A., Liang D., Tsutsui N.D. and Case T.J. 2002. Spatiotemporal patterns of intraspecific aggression in the invasive Argentine ant. Anim. Behav. 64: 697–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Suarez A.V., Holway D.A. and Tsutsui N.D. 2008. Genetics and behavior of a colonizing species: the invasive argentine ant. Am. Nat. 172: S72–S84PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tsutsui N.D., Suarez A.V., Holway D.A. and Case T.J. 2000. Reduced genetic variation and the success of an invasive species. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97: 5948–5953PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tsutsui N.D., Suarez A.V. and Grosberg R.K. 2003. Genetic diversity, asymmetrical aggression, and recognition in a widespread invasive species. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100: 1078–1083PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vienne C., Soroker V. and Hefetz A. 1995. Congruency of hydrocarbon patterns in heterospecific groups of ants: transfer and/or biosynthesis? Insect. Soc. 42: 267–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wagner D., Tissot M., Cuevas W. and Gordon D.M. 2000. Harvester ants utilize cuticular hydrocarbons in nestmate recognition. J. Chem. Ecol. 26: 2245–2257CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, BiocenterUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Animal Ecology, Institute of Biology I (Zoology)University of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

Personalised recommendations