Nestmate recognition in the ant Cataglyphis niger: Do queens matter?

Sigal Lahav*, Victoria Soroker, Abraham Hefetz, Robert K. Vander Meer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study compares two basic models for the origin and maintenance of colony gestalt odor in the polygynous ant species Cataglyphis niger. In the first model, queens are centers of de novo biosynthesis and distribution of recognition odors ('queen-centered' model); in the second, colony odors are primarily synthesized and distributed by workers ('worker-centered' model). We tested the behavioral patterns that are predicted from each model, and verified by biochemical means the distributional directionality of these signals. Encounters between nestmates originating from split colonies were as amicable as between nestmates from non-split colonies; queenless ants were as aggressive as their queenright nestmates, and both were equally aggressed by alien ants. These results indicate that queens have little impact on the recognition system of this species, and lend credence to the worker-centered model. The queen-centered model predicts that unique queen substances should be produced in appreciable quantities and that, in this respect, queens should be more metabolically active than workers. Analysis of the chemical composition of postpharyngeal glands (PPGs) or cuticular extracts of queens and workers revealed high similarity. Quantitatively, queens possessed significantly greater amounts of hydrocarbons in the PPG than workers, but the amount on the thoracic epicuticle was the same. Queens, however, possess a lower hydrocarbon biosynthesis capability than workers. The biochemical evidence thus refutes the queen-centered model and supports a worker-centered model. To elucidate the directionality of cue distribution, we investigated exchange of hydrocarbons between the castes in dyadic or group encounters in which selective participants were prelabeled. Queens tended to receive more and give less PPG content, whereas transfer to the epicuticle was low and similar in all encounters, as predicted from the worker-centered hypothesis. In the group encounters, workers transferred, in most cases, more hydrocarbons to the queen than to a worker. This slight preference for the queen is presumably amplified in a whole colony and can explain their copious PPG content. We hypothesize that preferential transfer to the queen may reflect selection to maintain her individual odor as close to the average colony odor as possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-212
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1998


  • Cataglyphis
  • Colony odor
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Postpharyngeal gland


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