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J Chem Ecol. 2008 Aug;34(8):1072-80. doi: 10.1007/s10886-008-9482-7. Epub 2008 Jun 18.

Colony-specific hydrocarbons identify nest mates in two species of Formica ant.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


The possession of a colony identity is a fundamental property that underlies much animal behavior. In insect societies, it is widely accepted that nest-mate recognition cues are encoded within the cuticular hydrocarbons. Despite numerous studies over the past 30years, the identification of these nest-mate specific signatures is only just starting to occur. In this paper, we show two different methods by which nest-mate-specific signatures can be encoded within the hydrocarbon profile of two species of Formica ants. In F. exsecta, nest-mate-specific signatures rely on the distribution of chain lengths of a single type of hydrocarbon, various (Z)-9-alkenes, which are present in colony-specific proportions. In F. fusca, variation in nine different positional isomers of C(25)-dimethylalkanes is sufficient to produce unique colony profiles. By using this information alone, we correctly assigned 97 F. exsecta workers into their respective 20 colonies and 111 F. fusca workers into their respective 30 colonies. These two systems or variations of them may be expected to occur in many insect societies that have a strong colony identity.

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