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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Gainesville, Florida » Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology » Imported Fire Ant and Household Insects Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #82266


item Lahav, Sigal
item Soroker, Victoria
item Vander Meer, Robert - Bob
item Hefetz, Abraham

Submitted to: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/19/1998
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: There are over 11,000 species of ants that occupy virtually every ecological niche on earth. One of these, the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, is a highly evolved species that is a serious medical and agricultural pest in the Southern and Southeastern United States. Ants depend on their ability to distinguish members of their own colony from intruders from the outside. Detection of a non-nestmate intruder releases a host of defensive behaviors and/or semiochemicals from workers that shields the queen from potential harm. Understanding the mechanism of nestmate recognition can provide important insight for the development of innovative control methods for fire ants and/or other pest ants. Scientists at the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, Gainesville, FL and Tel Aviv Univ., Tel Aviv, Israel, used an Israeli ant species, Cataglyphis niger, as a model to develop techniques for following the transfer and movement of chemicals used in nestmate recognition. They found that the queen does not contribute to the colony odor. However, the queen actively participates in the mixing of worker and queen odors into a colony blend. The results provide important information on the mechanism of nestmate recognition, a process that is basic to survival of the colony. Extension of these techniques and mechanism to pest ants, in particular the fire ant, could allow us to break the recognition code and direct control methods more effectively to the queen.

Technical Abstract: The influence of the queen on nestmate recognition and the formation of colony odor was studied in Cataglyphis niger using behavioral and biochemical approaches. The absence of the queen did not diminish the aggression of her workers, or change their label. Queens possessed significantly greater amounts of hydrocarbons in the postpharyngeal gland than workers, but the amount on the thoracic epicuticle was equivalent. A study of de novo biosynthesis of the hydrocarbon constituents and their distribution revealed, unexpectedly, that in workers the total amount of hydrocarbons produced was significantly higher than in functional queens. Queens tended to receive more and give less of their postpharyngeal gland content. Transfer to the epicuticle was low and comparable in all encounters. Group encounters in which eight prelabeled workers were put together with one non-labeled nestmate worker and one non-labeled queen revealed that in most cases workers transferred more hydrocarbon to the queen than to the worker. This slight preference for the queen is presumably amplified in a whole colony and can explain the copious postpharyngeal gland contents observed in queens. Both behavioral and biochemical results imply that in mature colonies of C. niger the queen contributes little to the colony odor. We hypothesize that the larger amount of material in the postpharyngeal gland of queens is the result of preferential transfer to the queen, and selection on the queen to maintain an odor close to the average colony odor. Any alienation towards the queen by her workers due to disparate body odors may result in reduced reproductive success.