Threat, Signal or Waste? Meaning of Corpses in two Dulotic Ant Species

Abstract

Ant corpses, besides representing threat of infection by pathogens and parasites, can also be used during interspecific conflicts to inhibit the activity of the attacked colony, or they can be consumed as food. In the view of the former, the signal properties of corpses can be manifold. Besides discriminating nestmates and foes, the corpses of different ant species may act as cues for foragers, signaling the presence of other rival species, and triggering appropriate responses (e.g., alarm, retreat or foraging). In our study, we examined the responses of the facultative slave-maker Formica sanguinea and those of the obligate Polyergus rufescens towards corpses of nestmates, non-nestmate conspecifics, heterospecific slave-makers and their slaves, and corpses of non-enslaved host species under laboratory conditions. Both dulotic species responded differently to corpses of different origin. In F. sanguinea, the most intensive response was elicited by the corpses of P. rufescens and its slave, but also the corpses of non-nestmate conspecifics and their slaves elicited many adverse responses. In P. rufescens, the corpses of non-nestmate conspecifics and their slaves elicited the most adverse response. Both dulotic species distinguished corpses of their slaves from corpses of non-enslaved hosts. Based on our results, ant corpses are not meaningless objects scattered in the field, but cues carrying information that trigger different behavioral responses, and in F. sanguinea they can even represent an important food source.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful for the helpful comments of Wojciech Czechowski, and Csaba Tölgyesi for helping with linguistic issues.

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Correspondence to István Maák.

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Maák, I., Torma, A., Kovács, J. et al. Threat, Signal or Waste? Meaning of Corpses in two Dulotic Ant Species. J Insect Behav 29, 432–448 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10905-016-9566-0

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Keywords

  • Competition
  • host-parasite model
  • facultative slave-maker
  • necrophoresis
  • necrophagy
  • obligate slave-maker