It seems that these tiny insects never cease to fascinate scientists with their incredible abilities to organize themselves. Researchers from the University of California – Riverside have discovered that ants have an incredible ability to communicate through their sense of smell. They use this ability to make the difference to tell apart intruders from ants that are from the same colony as them. The paper was published in the journal Cell Reports.
With their powerful sense of smell ants can sense the chemicals on individual’s cuticle and thus tell the members of their society apart. The lead author of the study Dr. Anandasankar Ray explained that the ants’ high-definition ability to smell body odor enables them to recognize both different castes inside their colony and intruders from other colonies. According to Dr. Ray the ability to detect hydrocarbons is something unusual which is only specific to social insects.
The experiment was conducted on the ant species Florida carpenter also known as Camponotus floridanus. For the research the scientists used electrophysiology in order to analyze how females detect cuticular hydrocarbons using their specific olfactory sensilla basiconica which is present on the antenna.
The researchers found out that ants are sensitive to pheromones and this allows the insects to detect very few molecules of hydrocarbons which are closer to the cuticle surface. That’s how ants are able to recognize other individuals that are close to them in a colony. The scientists systematically tested hydrocarbons from workers and queen cuticles.
Dr. Ray said:
This is a remarkable evolutionary solution for social networking in large colonies. A more volatile body odor cue would be confusing to associate with an individual and could overwhelm the olfactory system of the colony members by constantly activating it.”
After this research the authors concluded that ants are actually smarter than scientists previously believed. This study indicates that ants not only respond to the absence or presence of certain hydrocarbons, but also to certain mixtures of hydrocarbons. So we could say that pheromones function like a chemical barcode that ants in a certain colonies use in order to recognize other fellow ants and their status: worker or queen.
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