Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 373–385 | Cite as

Alkaloid Venom Weaponry of Three Megalomyrmex Thief Ants and the Behavioral Response of Cyphomyrmex costatus Host Ants

  • Rachelle M. M. Adams
  • Tappey H. Jones
  • John T. Longino
  • Robert G. Weatherford
  • Ulrich G. Mueller


Social parasites exploit other societies by invading and stealing resources. Some enter protected nests using offensive chemical weaponry made from alkaloid-based venom. We characterized the venoms of three Megalomyrmex thief ant species (M. mondabora, M. mondaboroides, and M. silvestrii) that parasitize the fungus-growing ants, and developed an ethogram to describe host ant reactions to raiding M. mondaboroides and M. silvestrii parasites. We compared piperidine, pyrrolidine, and pyrolizidine venom alkaloid structures with synthetic samples from previous studies, and describe the novel stereochemistry of trans 2-hexyl-5-[8-oxononyl]-pyrrolidine (3) from M. mondabora. We showed that workers of Cyphomyrmex costatus, the host of M. mondaboroides and M. silvestrii, react to a sting by Megalomyrmex parasites mainly with submissive behavior, playing dead or retreating. Host submission also followed brief antennal contact. The behavior of C. costatus ants observed in this study was similar to that of Cyphomyrmex cornutus, host of M. mondabora, suggesting that the alkaloidal venoms with pyrrolidines from M. mondabora, piperidines from M. mondaboroides, and pyrolizidines from M. silvestrii may function similarly as appeasement and repellent allomones against host ants, despite their different chemical structure. With the use of these chemical weapons, the Megalomyrmex thief ants are met with little host resistance and easily exploit host colony resources.


Parasitism Solenopsidini Attini Chemical defense Semiochemical Coevolution Appeasement substance Tolerance behavior 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Social Evolution, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of ChemistryVirginia Military InstituteLexingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  5. 5.Section of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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