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Hydrocarbons in the Ant Lasius niger: From the Cuticle to the Nest and Home Range Marking

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The cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) of the ant Lasius niger are described. We observe a high local colony specificity of the body cuticular profile as predicted for a monogynous and multicolonial species. The CHCs show a low geographical variation among different locations in France. The CHCs on the legs also are colony specific, but their relative quantities are slightly different from those on the main body. For the first time, we demonstrate that the inner walls of the ant nest are coated with the same hydrocarbons as those found on the cuticle but in different proportions. The high amount of inner-nest marking and its lack of colony-specificity may explain why alien ants are not rejected once they succeed in entering the nest. The cuticular hydrocarbons also are deposited in front of the nest entrance and on the foraging arena, with a progressive increase in n-alkanes relative amounts. Chemical marks laid over the substrate are colony specific only when we consider methyl-branched alkanes. Our data confirm that these “footprint hydrocarbons” are probably deposited passively by the contact of ant tarsae with the substrate. These results suggest that the CHCs chemical profiles used by ants in colony recognition are much more complex than a single template: ants have to learn and memorize odors that vary depending on their context of perception.

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We thank Guy Bourdais for help in ant rearing, Xavier Espadaler and Bernard Seifert for verification of the ant species determination, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. C. Detrain is senior research associate from the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research. This work was partially supported by a grant from the FRFC (N° 2.4600.09).

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Correspondence to Alain Lenoir.

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Fig. S1

Chromatogram of Lasius niger pentane extract obtained by FID. For peak numbers see Table S1.

Fig. S2

Discriminant analysis of colonies T5, T6 and T7 for hydrocarbons obtained by SPME from the cuticle and legs, with the colony as a grouping factor. Ellipses are 95% confidence intervals.

Table S1

List of hydrocarbons and relative quantities (Mean ± SD) obtained from liquid extracts and SPME. (XLS 38 kb)

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Lenoir, A., Depickère, S., Devers, S. et al. Hydrocarbons in the Ant Lasius niger: From the Cuticle to the Nest and Home Range Marking. J Chem Ecol 35, 913–921 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-009-9669-6

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  • Hydrocarbons
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Territorial marking
  • Ants
  • Nest odor