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Anim Behav. 2000 May;59(5):1061-1069.

How do ants assess food volume?

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Laboratoire de Biologie Animale et Cellulaire, Université Libre de Bruxelles


By comparing the behaviour of Lasius niger scouts at sucrose droplets of different volumes, we empirically identified the criterion used by each scout to assess the amount of food available as well as the rules governing its decision to lay a recruitment trail. When scouts discovered food volumes exceeding the capacity of their crop (3 or 6 µl), 90% immediately returned to the nest laying a recruitment trail. In contrast, when smaller food droplets (0.3, 0.7 or 1 µl) were offered, several scouts stayed on the foraging area, presumably exploring it for additional food. If unsuccessful, they returned to the nest without laying a trail. The droplet volume determined the percentage of trail-laying ants but had no influence on the intensity of marking when this was initiated. The key criterion that regulated the recruiting behaviour of scouts was their ability to ingest their own desired volume. This volume acted as a threshold triggering the trail-laying response of foragers. Collective regulation of foraging according to food size resulted from the interplay between the distribution of these desired volume thresholds among colony members and the food volume available. We relate some aspects of the foraging ecology of aphid-tending ants to this decision-making process.


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