Slave-making ants reduce the fitness of surrounding host colonies through regular raids, causing the loss of brood and frequently queen and worker death. Consequently, hosts developed defenses against slave raids such as specific recognition and aggression toward social parasites, and indeed, we show that host ants react more aggressively toward slavemakers than toward nonparasitic competitors. Permanent behavioral defenses can be costly, and if social parasite impact varies in time and space, inducible defenses, which are only expressed after slavemaker detection, can be adaptive. We demonstrate for the first time an induced defense against slave-making ants: Cues from the slavemaker Protomognathus americanus caused an unspecific but long-lasting behavioral response in Temnothorax host ants. A 5-min within-nest encounter with a dead slavemaker raised the aggression level in T. longispinosus host colonies. Contrarily, encounters with nonparasitic competitors did not elicit aggressive responses toward non-nestmates. Increased aggression can be adaptive if a slavemaker encounter reliably indicates a forthcoming attack and if aggression increases postraid survival. Host aggression was elevated over 3 days, showing the ability of host ants to remember parasite encounters. The response disappeared after 2 weeks, possibly because by then the benefits of increased aggression counterbalance potential costs associated with it.
- phenotypic plasticity
- social insects