Intraspecific competition in the ant Camponotus cruentatus: should we expect the 'dear enemy' effect?

Raphaël Boulay, Xim Cerdá, Tovit Simon, María Roldan, Abraham Hefetz

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The mechanisms of competition and resource domination were analysed in the Mediterranean ant Camponotus cruentatus. In a plot located in southern Spain mature colonies are overdispersed, which is indicative of territoriality in other species. Unexpectedly, however, workers from neighbouring colonies commonly foraged in areas that overlapped by more than 44%. This suggests that while mature colonies possibly prevent the establishment of new colonies in the vicinity of their nests, they do not limit the intrusion of alien foragers. In contrast, rich food sources located in common foraging areas are aggressively defended, generally leading to their domination by the nest that discovered them first. Resource exploitation further requires rapid recruitment of foragers and soldiers to transport food as well as to exclude competitors. Complementary to the field experiments we conducted laboratory bioassays to assess intercolonial aggression. Group encounters showed that workers of C. cruentatus were equally aggressive towards alien ants irrespective of whether they were sympatric neighbours (and had possibly had contact), sympatric nonneighbours (which had probably had no contact), or allopatric. This was corroborated by analysis of the hydrocarbons that generally serve as colony recognition cues. This mixture, which contains an unusual proportion of trimethylalkanes, showed important colony specificity. The high intraspecific aggression shown indiscriminately by workers indicates that the 'dear enemy' effect does not exist in this species and suggests that scarce resources are worth defending against intraspecific competitors. We discuss several proximate and ultimate constraints that may prevent the general occurrence of this process in ants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)985-993
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Camponotus cruentatus
  • Mediterranean ant
  • aggressive interactions
  • colony integrity
  • cuticular hydrocarbons
  • intraspecific competition
  • nestmate recognition
  • social insects


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