No evidence for tactile communication of direction in foraging Lasius ants

Abstract

The idea that ants communicate when meeting on a trail is beguiling, but evidence for this is scarce. Physical communication in ants has been demonstrated to play a role as a modulator of behaviours such as alarm and recruitment. Honeybees can communicate the location of a resource using an advanced motor display—the waggle dance. However, no equivalent of the waggle dance has been described for any ant species, and it is widely believed that ants cannot communicate the location of resources using motor displays. One group of researchers report several demonstrations of such communication in Formica ants; however, these results have been largely ignored. More recently some evidence arose that Lasius niger foragers returning from a food source can communicate to outgoing foragers the direction that should be taken at the next bifurcation by means of physical contact on the trail. Here, we make a concerted effort to replicate these results. Although initial results seemed to indicate physical communication, once stringent controls to eliminate pheromone cues were put in place, no evidence for physical communication of food location could be found. This null result was replicated independently by a different research group on a closely related species, L. neglectus. We conclude that neither L. niger nor L. neglectus foragers communicate resource location using physical contact. Our results increase the burden of proof required for other claims of physical communication of direction in ants, but do not completely rule out this possibility.

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Change history

  • 06 July 2018

    In the original publication of the article, the ORCID ID of author Stefan Popp was incorrect. The correct ORCID ID is given below:

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks to two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. TJC was supported by a DFG Emmy Noether group leader grant (Grant number CZ 237/1-1). PBB was supported by a NERC Industrial CASE studentship with Hymettus awarded to EJHR (NE/L008904/1).

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Correspondence to S. E. F. Evison or E. J. H. Robinson or T. J. Czaczkes.

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Popp, S., Buckham-Bonnett, P., Evison, S.E.F. et al. No evidence for tactile communication of direction in foraging Lasius ants. Insect. Soc. 65, 37–46 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-017-0583-6

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Keywords

  • Motor displays
  • Tactile communication
  • Distance homing
  • Lasius niger
  • Lasius neglectus
  • Antennation