The Science of Nature

, 106:3 | Cite as

Waste deposition in leaf-cutting ants is guided by olfactory cues from waste

  • Daniela RömerEmail author
  • Flavio Roces
Original Paper


Social insects often use olfactory cues from their environment to coordinate colony tasks. We investigated whether leaf-cutting ants use volatiles as cues to guide the deposition of their copious amounts of colony refuse. In the laboratory, we quantified the relocation of a small pile of colony waste by workers of Atta laevigata towards volatiles offered at each side of the pile as a binary choice, consisting of either waste volatiles, fungus volatiles, or no volatiles. Fungus volatiles alone did not evoke relocation of waste. Waste volatiles alone, by contrast, led to a strong relocation of waste particles towards them. When fungus and waste volatiles were tested against each other, waste particles were also relocated towards waste volatiles, and in a high percentage of assays completely moved away from the source of fungus volatiles as compared to the previous series. We suggest that deposition and accumulation of large amounts of refuse in single external heaps or a few huge underground waste chambers of Atta nests is due to both olfactory preferences and stigmergic responses towards waste volatiles by waste-carrying workers.


Volatiles Waste chamber Stigmergy Nest hygiene Orientation Atta laevigata 



We would like to thank Isabel Reuter and Annette Laudahn for their help during the experiments, and Bo Leberecht for video editing. Special thanks to Prof. L. Forti (UNESP Botucatu, Brazil) for providing the colonies and two anonymous reviewers, whose comments improved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

All international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

114_2018_1599_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (12 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 11 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, BiocenterUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

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