Nest volatiles as modulators of nestmate recognition in the ant Camponotus fellah.

Journal of Insect Physiology 54(2):378 (2008) PMID 18045612

When ants from alien colonies encounter each other the stereotypic reaction is usually one of aggressive behavior. It has been shown that factors such as queen-derived cues or nest-odors modulate this reaction. Here we examined whether nest volatiles affect nestmate recognition by observing the reaction of nestmates towards individual workers under one of four regimes: completely isolated; isolated but receiving a constant airflow from the mother colony; as previous but with the passage of nest volatiles towards the isolated ants blocked by adsorption on a SuperQ column; or reversed airflow direction-from the isolated ants to the nest interior. Ants that had been completely isolated for three weeks were subjected to aggressive behavior, but not those that had continued to receive airflow from the mother colony. Adsorbing the nest volatiles from the airflow by SuperQ abolished this difference, with these ants now also being subjected to aggression, indicating that nest volatiles can modulate nestmate recognition. Reverse airflow also reduced the level of aggression but to a lesser extent than airflow directed from the mother colony. In queenless colonies the overall aggression was reduced under all regimes, and there was no effect of flow, suggesting that the volatiles involved are queen-borne. The SuperQ adsorbed volatiles originated from Dufour's gland secretions of both workers and queen, implicating them in the process. Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles were not affected by exposure to nest volatiles, suggesting that the latter either constitute part of the recognition cues or affect worker behavior via a different, as yet elusive mechanism.