Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 309–315 | Cite as

Effect of trail pheromones and weather on the moving behaviour of the army ant Eciton burchellii

  • D. Califano
  • J. Chaves-CamposEmail author
Research Article (C.W. Rettenmeyer memorial papers)


Most of what we know about the moving behaviour of the nomadic army ant Eciton burchellii comes from Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in Panama. Nomadic colonies raid roughly in straight line during the day and relocate their nests along this path in the evening. At BCI, nomadic colonies raid roughly in the same compass bearing of the previous day, presumably using their pheromone-marked raiding trails as cues to pick directions. Deviations from this direction occur when a nomadic colony fails to move, possibly due to environmental conditions. The generality of these results has been questioned. We studied nomadic colonies of E. burchellii at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica to evaluate the generality of the results obtained from BCI. We measured the angle between consecutive raids, manipulated the distribution of previous day’s raid pheromones around nests to evaluate the effect of raid pheromone on foraging direction, and evaluated the effect of rainfall on the probability of moving and on deviation from the previous day’s raid. Colonies did not follow the same compass bearing of the previous day and formed new raids on areas with previous day’s raid pheromones or without them. Rainfall can explain when nomadic colonies move, but did not explain deviation from the previous day’s raid direction. Our results suggest that caution should be taken when generalizing the insightful results obtained from the BCI population.


Army ants Costa Rica La Selva Biological Station Migration Pheromones Rainfall 



We thank Carl Rettenmeyer, Stefanie Berghoff, Sean O’Donnell, Anjali Kumar, Malia Fincher, and two anonymous reviewers for suggestions that improved earlier versions of the manuscript. We also thank Yimen Araya-Ajoy for field assistance, Franklin Aguilar for providing the meteorological data, Ken Gerow for help with statistical analysis, Chris Amaya and Andrea Worthington for assisting in the final preparation of the manuscript, and Karin Gastreich, Rodney Vargas, and Deedra McClearn for logistic support. DC was funded by the US National Science Foundation through the Organization for Tropical Studies Research Experience for Undergraduates program at La Selva. JC-C received financial support for the ocellated antbird project from the US National Science Foundation (NSF-DDIG 0608231), American Ornithologists’ Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, Sigma Xi Society, Organization for Tropical Studies, Purdue Research Foundation, and Idea Wild. The antbird project was approved by the Costa Rican government (permit R-CM-OET-05-2006-OT).

Supplementary material

40_2010_140_MOESM1_ESM.doc (32 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentSiena CollegeNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of New OrleansNew OrleansUSA

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