For young ants at the pupal stage of life—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 social insects 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 pupae 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.
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 ants 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."
Current Biology, Casacci et al.: "Ant Pupae Employ Acoustics to communicate Social Status in their Colony's Hierarchy."
Cell Press: http://www.cellpress.com
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Excess heat being stored hundreds of metres down in Atlantic and Southern oceans not Pacific as previously thought
Researchers created visual and DNA analysis of how anoles regenerate their tails.
My father worked for over 30 years in construction, falling off of ladders and getting slivers of metal in his eye and generally bleeding profusely. He toiled like a maniac so our family could eat, all while furthering one of humanity’s most indispensable inventions: large-scale construction of shelter.
Birds lost the taste receptors for sugar, but hummingbirds clearly have a sweet tooth. Now we know how they regained it
New research finds humans and Neanderthals may have coexisted in Europe for more than 5,000 years
Too much seaweed and they're out of there
Governments fund research into diseases that are popular with voters. But what about rare diseases, or the ones that aren't popular, that nonetheless affect thousands of lives?
Researchers suggest some standard methods to reduce the spread of MRSA infections need to be re-evaluated as they may do more harm than good.
In California, people with Alzheimer's will be given transfusions of young blood to see if improves their cognition – there's good reason to hope it might
A study of 40 archaeological sites in Europe suggests the Neanderthals died out 40,000 years ago, much earlier than thought, and that humans played a role