Scientists at the University of California at Riverside say that ants use their acute sense of smell to distinguish chemical compounds on other ants’ bodies. Their findings were published in the journal Cell Reports. It seems that ants’ sense of smell is a very refined, elusive one.
Moreover, ants use chemicals denominated pheromones to communicate. These pheromones are chemicals especially secreted by insects, which influence the behavior of others of the same species, as by marking the route to a food source or attracting members of the opposite sex.
Neuroscientist and lead author of the study, Anandasankar Ray, stated that a remarkable curiosity was how ants would co-exist in massive colonies, having specialized tasks. It seems, according to him, that ants use chemistry to communicate, “as any society would require.”
So, ants use their body odor, exhibited on their outer shells, to acknowledge who the queen is, and who the workers are. It seems that workers from a specific colony smell differently than the ones from another.
Prof. Ray said that ants were very susceptible to smell, as they would be able to tell who the outsider was, leading to aggression, i.e. killing the outsider.
Ray along with his team ascertained the electrical activity displayed by single hairs from the antennae of worker ants, once reacting to hydrocarbon chemicals. The experiment was conducted via an electrophysiology method. So it seems that ants were able to distinguish different chemicals from one another, as they had trained them to associate particular hydrocarbon chemicals with sugar water.
Prof. Ray continued by saying that their astonishing discovery was that ants had an olfactory system very large in extent, but these insects were able to perceive very closely related compounds as different.
The ant that was used in this research, Camponotus floridanus, more commonly known as the Florida carpenter ant, has a wider array of olfactory proteins in their genetic material than humans.
Moreover, an interesting fact about the Florida carpenter ant is that these bicolored ants are among the largest in Florida, and, during the flight season, they can be encountered in frightening numbers. And, regarding their defense mechanism, it seems that they do not sting, but workers are able to bite and spray formic acid.
In any case, it seems that ants have mastered the art of communication.
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