Ant fight!

October 27, 2009

A group of 'friend or foe' scent molecules have been isolated from colonies of Argentine ants. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Biology identified and synthesised the scents, describing how applying them to worker ants resulted in attacks from their former colony-mates.

Neil Tsutsui and colleagues, from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, worked with a team of researchers from the University of California, Irvine to carry out the ant experiments. He said, "Chemical signaling is the most ancient mode of communication, and it is still used in some form by all organisms. The elaborate social systems of ants are largely regulated by chemical signals, but very little is known about the chemical labels that define colony membership".

Tsutsui and his colleagues first identified candidate molecules for colony-mate recognition by looking for chemical differences between ants that fought. They then synthesized seven of these molecules in pure form and tested their ability to induce aggression among worker ants from the same colony. Finally, they tested the behavioral responses to changes in the quantity of these cues, and how combinations of different scents affected the expression of aggression toward treated colony-mates.

Speaking about the discovery, Tsutsui said, "The fact that application of these chemicals can make formerly friendly animals flare their mandibles, recoil, bite, grab and use chemical defenses suggests that we have provided some of the first insights into the identity of ant colony-mate recognition cues. Future studies will be able to apply these findings to exploration of social evolution, sensory ecology, neurophysiology and invasion biology".
-end-
Notes to Editors:

1. The scent of supercolonies: the discovery, synthesis and behavioural verification of ant colony recognition cues
Miriam Brandt, Ellen van Wilgenburg, Robert Sulc, Kenneth J Shea and Neil D Tsutsui
BMC Biology (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/5269730092783412_article.pdf?random=355304

After the embargo, article available at journal website: http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcbiol/

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication

2. BMC Biology - the flagship biology journal of the BMC series - publishes research and methodology articles of special importance and broad interest in any area of biology and biomedical sciences. BMC Biology (ISSN 1741-7007) is covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, BIOSIS, CAS, Scopus, EMBASE, Zoological Record, Thomson Reuters (ISI) and Google Scholar.

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BioMed Central

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