Hydrocarbons on Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) Middens Guide Foragers to the Nest

  • Shelby J. Sturgis
  • Michael J. Greene
  • Deborah M. Gordon


Colony-specific cuticular hydrocarbons are used by social insects in nestmate recognition. Here, we showed that hydrocarbons found on the mound of Pogonomyrmex barbatus nests facilitate the return of foragers to the nest. Colony-specific hydrocarbons, which ants use to distinguish nestmates from non-nestmates, are found on the midden pebbles placed on the nest mound. Midden hydrocarbons occur in a concentration gradient, growing stronger near the nest entrance, which is in the center of a 1–2 m diameter nest mound. Foraging behavior was disrupted when the gradient of hydrocarbons was altered experimentally. When midden material was diluted with artificial pebbles lacking the colony-specific hydrocarbons, the speed of returning foragers decreased significantly. The chemical environment of the nest mound contributes to the regulation of foraging behavior in harvester ants.

Key Words

Pogonomyrmex barbatus Hydrocarbons Homing Chemical ecology Foraging behavior 



We thank Mattias Lanas for his technical assistance in the field. Many thanks to all the volunteers and staff at the Southwestern Research Station (SWRS) in Portal, AZ. Funding was provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Grant, the SWRS Student Support Fund, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and NIH-NIDCD through a National Research Service Award (NRSA).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shelby J. Sturgis
    • 1
  • Michael J. Greene
    • 2
  • Deborah M. Gordon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA

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