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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Johnson, Christine
item Vander Meer, Robert - Bob
item Lavine, Barry

Submitted to: Journal of Chemical Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/13/2000
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Ants that are parasites of other ant species are not common but have been found in Formica spp. (wood ants) and the red imported fire ant. These parasites are of intrinsic interest and in the case of the fire ant they offer another approach to biological control. Understanding how these parasites are able to integrate into the normally closed host society is important to the potential use of these ant parasites. Scientists at the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, USDA, ARS, Gainesville, Florida, The City University of New York, Hunter College, New York, New York, and Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York, discovered that a key element in the successful integration of a parasitic ant into its hos Formica colony is the transfer of cuticular chemicals from the host queen t the parasitic queen as the parasite queen kills the host queen. Host worke attacks on the parasite queen stop after this chemical acquisition occurs a athe workers begin to feed and groom the parasite queen. These results are important to our general understanding of how ant parasites integrate into the nests of their host.

Technical Abstract: Queens of the slave-maker ant, Polyergus breviceps, take over nests of their Formica host species by fatally attacking the resident queen. As workers only begin grooming the P. breviceps queen once she has ceased her attack, we investigated whether a transfer of chemicals from host queen to parasite queen may be responsible for this dramatic change in worker behavior. We determined that the cuticular hydrocarbon pattern for newly mated P. breviceps queens and for queens of their two Formica host species were species-specific and found that the cuticular hydrocarbon pattern of the parasite queen changed markedly after attacking a host queen. The newly acquired profile was virtually identical to the queen profile of the species killed. Principal component analysis of the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of parasite and hosts visually indicates the hydrocarbon pattern change that takes place in newly mated P. breviceps queens after attacking a Formica host queen. These results indeed suggest that cuticular compound from the host are transferred to the parasite queen during their aggressive interaction.

Last Modified: 06/26/2017
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