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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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.
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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
- Column foraging
- Harvester ants
- Poison gland