Pavement Ant Workers (Tetramorium caespitum) Assess Cues Coded in Cuticular Hydrocarbons to Recognize Conspecific and Heterospecific Non-Nestmate Ants
Most ants live in closed societies from which non-members are excluded through fighting or ritualized displays to protect colony resources. Nestmate recognition is the process by which ants discriminate nestmate from non-nestmate ants. Ants use cues coded in mixtures of long-chain hydrocarbon compounds on the cuticle as nestmate recognition cues. Pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum) form conspicuous wars between neighboring colonies that are organized after workers meet and make the decision to fight after assessing nestmate recognition cues. These wars involve thousands of individuals. Fighting is ritualized and few ants die in the process. We identified 24 cuticular hydrocarbon compounds, above 1% in relative abundance, in the profile of pavement ants with chain lengths ranging from 15 to 31 carbon atoms. Cuticular lipids contained, in order of abundance: mono-methyl alkanes (45–56%), n-alkanes (range: 16–40% relative abundance), and alkenes (10–20%), with small or trace amounts of di-methyl, tri-methyl alkanes and fatty acids. Results from behavioral tests show that pavement ants assess information in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles to recognize both conspecific and heterospecfic (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis and Camponotus modoc) non-nestmate ants and that the relative abundance of methyl-branched alkanes and alkenes codes for nestmate status, at least for conspecific interactions. Our data add to a growing body of knowledge about how ants use cuticular hydrocarbon based nestmate recognition cues to prevent the intrusion of non-nestmates in to colony space.
KeywordsPavement ant Tetramorium caespitum nestmate recognition cues cuticular hydrocarbons aggression
This work was supported, in part, by USDA/CSREES/NRI;UCD Project # 3533316. We thank Kevin Hoover and William Schuman for comments on the manuscript. The authors thank Claire Chen for her work identifying pavement ant cuticular hydrocarbon compounds.
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