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Chemical communication during foraging in the harvesting ants Messor pergandei and Messor andrei

Abstract

We combined behavioral analyses in the laboratory and field to investigate chemical communication in the formation of foraging columns in two Nearctic seed harvesting ants, Messor pergandei and Messor andrei. We demonstrate that both species use poison gland secretions to lay recruitment trails. In M. pergandei, the recruitment effect of the poison gland is enhanced by adding pygidial gland secretions. The poison glands of both species contain 1-phenyl ethanol. Minute quantities (3 μl of a 0.1 ppm solution) of 1-phenyl ethanol drawn out along a 40 cm long trail released trail following behavior in M. pergandei, while M. andrei required higher concentrations (0.5–1 ppm). Messor pergandei workers showed weak trail following to 5 ppm trails of the pyrazines 2,5-dimethylpyrazine and 2,3,5-trimethylpyrazine, whereas M. andrei workers showed no behavioral response. Minute quantities of pyrazines were detected in M. pergandei but not in M. andrei poison glands using single ion monitoring gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Athula Attygalle for preliminary chemical analyses, and the City of Phoenix, AZ, and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, CA, for access to field sites. We also thank the ASU Foundation for providing funding to B.H. All animal experiments were performed according to relevant USA laws.

Author information

Correspondence to Nicola J. R. Plowes.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Video 1. Video of Messor pergandei workers extending a foraging column in the field. The nest is directly behind the top of the image, and the column is forming towards the camera. Workers move forward and then loop back, laying trails as they move (MPG 6808 kb)

Video 2. Video of Messor pergandei workers walking on a foraging column in the field. Several workers can be seen trail marking-swiping the tips of their gasters to the substrate (MPG 6806 kb)

Video 3. Video of Messor pergandei workers in the laboratory demonstrating trail following response to 1-phenylethanol, and alarm-recruitment response to tridecane (MPG 34192 kb)

Video 1. Video of Messor pergandei workers extending a foraging column in the field. The nest is directly behind the top of the image, and the column is forming towards the camera. Workers move forward and then loop back, laying trails as they move (MPG 6808 kb)

Video 2. Video of Messor pergandei workers walking on a foraging column in the field. Several workers can be seen trail marking-swiping the tips of their gasters to the substrate (MPG 6806 kb)

Video 3. Video of Messor pergandei workers in the laboratory demonstrating trail following response to 1-phenylethanol, and alarm-recruitment response to tridecane (MPG 34192 kb)

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Plowes, N.J.R., Colella, T., Johnson, R.A. et al. Chemical communication during foraging in the harvesting ants Messor pergandei and Messor andrei . J Comp Physiol A 200, 129–137 (2014) doi:10.1007/s00359-013-0868-9

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Keywords

  • Column foraging
  • Harvester ants
  • 1-phenylethanol
  • Poison gland
  • Recruitment