Colony disassociation following diet partitioning in a unicolonial ant

Research paper by J. Silverman, D. Liang

Indexed on: 01 Feb '01Published on: 01 Feb '01Published in: The Science of Nature


Discriminating nestmates from alien conspecifics via chemical cues is recognized as a critical element in maintaining the integrity of insect societies. We determined, in laboratory experiments, that nestmate recognition in an introduced population of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is modified by hydrocarbons acquired from insect prey, and that workers from spatially isolated colony fragments, each provided with prey that possessed distinct cuticular hydrocarbons, displayed aggressive behavior towards their former nestmates. Isolation for 28 days or more between colony fragments fed different prey was sufficient to prevent re-establishment of inter-nest communication for at least an additional 28 days through the introduction of a bridge between the nests. Ants possessed intrinsic cuticular hydrocarbons plus only those hydrocarbons from the prey they received during the isolation period. Colony fragments which were isolated for less than 28 days reunited with workers possessing both prey hydrocarbons. Therefore, L. humile nestmate recognition may be dynamic, being in part dependent on the spatio-temporal distribution of prey, along with physical factors permitting or restricting access of subcolony units to those prey.