Age-dependent release of and response to alarm pheromone in a ponerine ant [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Tamara Pokorny, Lisa-Marie Sieber, John E. Hofferberth, Abel Bernadou, and Joachim Ruther

Social insect societies are characterized by division of labour and communication within the colony. The most frequent mode used to communicate is by chemical signals. In general, pheromones elicit specific responses in the receiver, although reactions may vary depending on the receiving individual’s physiological or motivational state. For example, it has been shown that pheromones can elicit different responses in morphological worker castes. However, comparably little is known about such effects in worker castes of monomorphic species. Here, we comprehensively study a monomorphic species showing age polyethism, the thelytokous ant Platythyrea punctata. Our analyses revealed that the species’ alarm pheromone consists of (S)-(-)-citronellal and (S)-(-)-actinidine, and is produced in the mandibular glands. Ants responded with increased movement activity and increasing ant density towards the pheromone source in whole colony bioassays, confirming the alarming effect of these compounds. We found age classes to differ in their absolute pheromone content, in the propensity to release alarm pheromone upon disturbance and in their reaction towards the pheromone. Absolute amounts of pheromone content may differ simply because the biosynthesis of the pheromone begins only after adult eclosion. Nonetheless, our results indicate that this clonal species exhibits age-related polyethism in the emission of as well as in the response to its alarm pheromone.

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