Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 8, pp 711–722 | Cite as

Group recruitment in a thermophilic desert ant, Ocymyrmex robustior

  • Stefan Sommer
  • Denise Weibel
  • Nicole Blaser
  • Anna Furrer
  • Nadine E. Wenzler
  • Wolfgang Rössler
  • Rüdiger WehnerEmail author
Original Paper


Thermophilic desert ants—Cataglyphis, Ocymyrmex, and Melophorus species inhabiting the arid zones of the Palaearctic region, southern Africa and central Australia, respectively—are solitary foragers, which have been considered to lack any kind of chemical recruitment. Here we show that besides mainly employing the solitary mode of food retrieval Ocymyrmex robustior regularly exhibits group recruitment to food patches that cannot be exploited individually. Running at high speed to recruitment sites that may be more than 60 m apart from the nest a leading ant, the recruiter, is followed by a loose and often quite dispersed group of usually 2–7 recruits, which often overtake the leader, or may lose contact, fall back and return to the nest. As video recordings show the leader, while continually keeping her gaster in a downward position, intermittently touches the surface of the ground with the tip of the gaster most likely depositing a volatile pheromone signal. These recruitment events occur during the entire diurnal activity period of the Ocymyrmex foragers, that is, even at surface temperatures of more than 60 °C. They may provide promising experimental paradigms for studying the interplay of orientation by chemical signals and path integration as well as other visual guidance routines.


Desert ants Recruitment Ocymyrmex Path integration Solitary foraging 



We thank Christine Gutzwiller and Sibylle Wehner for their cooperation during various stages of the experiments, Joh Henschel, Thomas Nørgaard, and the staff of the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Namibia, for infrastructural help in various ways, Bert Hölldobler for helpful comments on Myrmecocystus mimicus, Steffen Pielström for providing us with video sequences of the recruitment behaviour of Camponotus socius, and two reviewers for helpful comments. Financial support came from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant no. 31-61844.00 to RW) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Grant no. 3675/1-1 and Grant no. SFB 554 A8 to RW and WR, respectively). The experiments comply with the current law of the country in which they were performed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Sommer
    • 1
  • Denise Weibel
    • 2
  • Nicole Blaser
    • 3
  • Anna Furrer
    • 4
  • Nadine E. Wenzler
    • 5
  • Wolfgang Rössler
    • 5
  • Rüdiger Wehner
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  3. 3.Institute of AnatomyUniversity of ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Kantonsschule OltenOltenSwitzerland
  5. 5.BiocenterUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  6. 6.Brain Research InstituteUniversity of ZürichZurichSwitzerland

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