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J Chem Ecol. 2001 Sep;27(9):1805-19.

Task-related environment alters the cuticular hydrocarbon composition of harvester ants.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas 89154-4004, USA.


Within a colony of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), workers in different task groups differ in the hydrocarbon composition of the cuticle. Foragers and patrollers, which spend extended periods of time outside the nest, have a higher proportion of saturated, unbranched hydrocarbons (n-alkanes) on the cuticle than nest maintenance workers, which spend only short periods of time outside the nest. We tested whether these task-related differences in ant cuticular chemistry arise from exposure to conditions outside the nest. Nest maintenance workers experiencing daily, short-term outside exposure developed a higher proportion of n-alkanes on the cuticle than workers kept inside the lab. Independent manipulations of ultraviolet radiation, relative humidity, and temperature revealed that only the combination of high temperature (ca. 38 degrees C) and low relative humidity (ca. 8%) increased the proportion of cuticular n-alkanes. The results indicate that warm dry conditions, such as those encountered when an ant leaves the nest, trigger changes in cuticular chemistry.

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