For ant pupae, status means being heard

February 7, 2013
This is an ant pupa under a scanning electron microscope. Credit: Current Biology, Casacci et al.

caught between larva and adulthood—status is all about being heard. The findings, reported online on February 7 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, add to evidence that ants can communicate abstract information through sound in addition to chemical cues.

"One of the truly fascinating characteristics of is their power of self-organization, which allows their societies to achieve amazing feats way beyond the ability of individuals, and communication is key to these achievements," said Karsten Schönrogge of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in the United Kingdom. "Our experiments are the first to show not only that ant use sound to communicate with the adults in their colony, but also that the social ranking of mature pupae depends on their ability to make those sounds."

Social insects were known to use chemical pheromones to recognize each other and to organize complex behaviors such as swarming. Researchers also knew that ants make audible sounds. But it wasn't so clear until recently that those sounds might actually mean something.

The new work, by scientists at CEH, University of Oxford, and University of Turin, shows that as soon as the ants' bodies begin to harden as pupae, they begin making sounds similar to adults with their "file and scraper" organs, although the sounds are first emitted as single pulses, not longer sequences.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This is a recording of ant pupa sound. Credit: Current Biology, Casacci et al.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This is a recording of worker ant sound. Credit: Current Biology, Casacci et al.
It turns out that those sounds are essential for pupae to maintain their rightful place in the ant hierarchy, above their younger, larval siblings. When unstressed adult worker ants hear those sounds from pupae, they are assigned priority over their silent fellows in rescue operations back to the nest. Pupae experimentally rendered mute lose that higher-priority status.

The findings suggest that acoustics might actually replace chemicals as a mode of communication in this phase of an ant's social life, the researchers say. They also confirm that are able to send and receive signals across multiple information "channels."

"It seems highly likely that, in some situations, one type of signal might mediate the response to another," Schönrogge said. "The implications of this additional layer of flexibility need to be explored."

Explore further: Ant’s social network similar to Facebook

More information: Current Biology, Casacci et al.: "Ant Pupae Employ Acoustics to communicate Social Status in their Colony's Hierarchy." dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.01.010

Related Stories

Ant’s social network similar to Facebook

April 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A recent study in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface presents findings that show that not all ants are as social as others. Similar to your friends on Facebook, some ants communicate with only a ...

Nature and nurture help ant societies run smoothly

April 22, 2011

Picture an ant colony: up to a million ants, all looking identical, harmoniously going about their busy ant lives. But with so many ants around, how on Earth do they know who's friend and who's foe?

Chemical warfare of stealthy silverfish

December 1, 2011

A co-evolutionary arms race exists between social insects and their parasites. Army ants (Leptogenys distinguenda) share their nests with several parasites such as beetles, snails and spiders. They also share their food with ...

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Studies reveal details of error correction in cell division

July 29, 2015

Cell biologists led by Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with collaborators elsewhere, report an advance in understanding the workings of an error correction mechanism that helps cells detect and ...

Researchers discover new type of mycovirus

July 29, 2015

Researchers, led by Dr Robert Coutts, Leverhulme Research Fellow from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Dr Ioly Kotta-Loizou, Research Associate at Imperial College, have discovered ...

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.