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Nestmate Recognition in Camponotus is Affected by the Structure of Added Hydrocarbons

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Olfactory discrimination tasks can provide useful information about how olfaction may have evolved by demonstrating which types of compounds animals will detect and respond to. Ants discriminate between nestmates and non-nestmates by using olfaction to detect the cuticular hydrocarbons on

Olfactory discrimination tasks can provide useful information about how olfaction may have evolved by demonstrating which types of compounds animals will detect and respond to. Ants discriminate between nestmates and non-nestmates by using olfaction to detect the cuticular hydrocarbons on other ants, and Camponotus floridanus have particularly clear and aggressive responses to non-nestmates. A new method of adding hydrocarbons to ants, the “Snow Globe” method was further optimized and tested on C. floridanus. It involves adding hydrocarbons and a solvent to a vial of water, vortexing it, suspending hydrocarbon droplets throughout the solution, and then dipping a narcotized ant in. It is hoped this method can evenly coat ants in hydrocarbon. Ants were treated with heptacosane (C27), nonacosane (C29), hentriacontane (C31), a mixture of C27/C29/C31, 2-methyltriacontane (2MeC30), S-3-methylhentriacontane (SMeC31), and R-3-methylhentriacontane (RMeC31). These were chosen to see how ants reacted in a nestmate recognition context to methyl-branched hydrocarbons, R and S enantiomers, and to multiple added alkanes. Behavior assays were performed on treated ants, as well as two untreated controls, a foreign ant and a nestmate ant. There were 15 replicates of each condition, using 15 different queenright colonies. The Snow Globe method successfully transfers hydrocarbons, as confirmed by solid phase microextraction (SPME) done on treated ants, and the behavior assay data shows the foreign control, SMeC31, and the mixture of C27/29/31 were all statistically significant in their differences from the native control. The multiple alkane mixture received a significant response while single alkanes did not, which supports the idea that larger variations in hydrocarbon profile are needed for an ant to be perceived as foreign. The response to SMeC31 shows C. floridanus can respond during nestmate recognition to hydrocarbons that are not naturally occurring, and it indicates the nestmate recognition process may simply be responding to any compounds not found in the colony profile and rather than detecting particular foreign compounds.

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2021-05