A comparative analysis of rapid antennation behavior in four species of Odontomachus trap-jaw ants


The exchange of rapid antennal strikes between individuals is a behavior exhibited by many social hymenopterans, largely in dominance contexts within the nest and in aggressive contexts towards non-nestmates. Despite being widely reported, the behavior itself has not been well described or compared between species for the majority of social insect groups. We first document how often rapid antennation is used as an aggressive response to non-nestmates for four species of Odontomachus ants. We then use high-speed videography to measure the rate of rapid antennation behavior for these species. We find that rates are neither conserved nor species-specific and average between 19.5 and 41.5 strikes/s. Next, with O. brunneus, we compare this behavior as it is performed between nestmates and non-nestmates. We find no context-specific differences in rate, bout length, or number of strikes. We conclude by discussing the evolution of this behavior and its potential utility as a model for understanding aggressive behaviors both inside and outside of the nest.

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All ants were collected with permission from the Archbold Biological Station (Florida), Weeks Bay Reserve (Alabama), and the Central Cardamom Protected Forest Forestry Administration and the Scientific Capacity Development Initiative (Cambodia). Ants were transported to the University of Illinois under USDA permit numbers P526P-13-02992 and P526P-12-01513. For support in the field, we would like to thank: Fred Larabee and Mark Deyrup (Florida); Scott Phipps and Rafael Achury (Alabama); Stephan De Greef, Dietrich Gotzek, Bill Wills, Fred Larabee and Vittoria Elliott (Cambodia).

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Correspondence to A. A. Smith.

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Supplemental Video. Rapid antennation behavior at full speed and 1/8 speed between non-nestmates (O. brunneus). (MP4 11742 kb)

Supplemental Video. Rapid antennation behavior at full speed and 1/8 speed between non-nestmates (O. brunneus). (MP4 11742 kb)

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O’Fallon, S., Suarez, A.V. & Smith, A.A. A comparative analysis of rapid antennation behavior in four species of Odontomachus trap-jaw ants. Insect. Soc. 63, 265–270 (2016).

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  • Antennal dueling
  • Antennal boxing
  • Antennal drumming
  • Dominance
  • Aggression