Use of stridulation in foraging leaf-cutting ants: mechanical support during cutting or short-range recruitment signal?
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Foraging leaf-cutting ant workers stridulate while cutting a leaf fragment. Two effects of stridulation have recently been identified: (i) attraction of nestmates to the cutting site, employing substrate-borne stridulatory vibrations as short-range recruitment signals, and (ii) mechanical facilitation of the cut via a vibratome-effect. We asked whether foragers actually stridulate to support their cutting behavior, or whether the mechanical facilitation is an epiphenomenon correlated with the use of stridulation as recruitment signal. To differentiate between the two alternatives, workers of two different Atta species were presented with tender leaves of invariant physical traits, and their motivation to initiate recruitment was manipulated by varying the palatability of the leaves and the starvation of the colony. The lower the palatability of the harvested leaves, the lower the percentage of workers that stridulated while cutting, irrespective of the leaf’s physical features. After intense feeding, no workers were observed to stridulate while cutting tender leaves, and the percentage of stridulating workers increased with deprivation time. The results support the hypothesis that leaf-cutting ant workers stridulate during cutting in order to recruit nestmates, and that the observed mechanical facilitation of stridulation is an epiphenomenon of recruitment communication.
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