Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 5, pp 627–636 | Cite as

Radio tagging reveals the roles of corpulence, experience and social information in ant decision making

  • Elva J. H. RobinsonEmail author
  • Thomas O. Richardson
  • Ana B. Sendova-Franks
  • Ofer Feinerman
  • Nigel R. Franks
Original Paper


Ant colonies are factories within fortresses (Oster and Wilson 1978). They run on resources foraged from an outside world fraught with danger. On what basis do individual ants decide to leave the safety of the nest? We investigated the relative roles of social information (returning nestmates), individual experience and physiology (lipid stores/corpulence) in predicting which ants leave the nest and when. We monitored Temnothorax albipennis workers individually using passive radio-frequency identification technology, a novel procedure as applied to ants. This method allowed the matching of individual corpulence measurements to activity patterns of large numbers of individuals over several days. Social information and physiology are both good predictors of when an ant leaves the nest. Positive feedback from social information causes bouts of activity at the colony level. When certain social information is removed from the system by preventing ants returning, physiology best predicts which ants leave the nest and when. Individual experience is strongly related to physiology. A small number of lean individuals are responsible for most external trips. An individual’s nutrient status could be a useful cue in division of labour, especially when public information from other ants is unavailable.


Division of labour Foraging RFID Physiology Ant Temnothorax 



We thank A.E. Walsby and D. Holland for advice and help with weighing gasters; E. Franklin, R. Archer, Z. Demery, J. Green, B. Johnson, R. Matsuura, J. Roy, P. Sleeman, M.J.H. Steiner, M. Sullivan, J. Wood and A. Whitehead for experimental assistance; S. Perez-Espona, E.A. Langridge and N. Stroeymeyt for useful discussions. NRF & EJHR acknowledge EPSRC grant EP/D076226/1; ABS-F and TOR acknowledge EPSRC grant EP/E061796/1. The experiments described comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Supplementary material

265_2008_696_MOESM1_ESM.doc (117 kb)
ESM 1 Supplementary information (DOC 117 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elva J. H. Robinson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas O. Richardson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ana B. Sendova-Franks
    • 2
  • Ofer Feinerman
    • 3
  • Nigel R. Franks
    • 1
  1. 1.University Research Centre for Behavioural Biology and Ant Lab, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsBIT, University of the West of EnglandBristolUK
  3. 3.Computational Biology CenterMemorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer CenterNew YorkUSA

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