Social isolation provides a useful tool to study nestmate recognition in ants. In Camponotus fellah, reintroduction of 10-day isolated (IS) workers to their colony resulted in intensive trophallaxis and grooming, while longer isolation periods generally provoked rejection of the IS ants. In the first experiment the behaviour of queenless (QL) and queenright (QR) workers towards 10-day IS workers was tested. Trophallaxis of QL or QR with IS workers was of similar magnitude, but was significantly higher than that among the QL or QR, or that between QL and QR workers. Allogrooming was mostly initiated by the resident non-isolated ants (QL or QR) possibly because they detected a slight mismatch between the IS ant's odour and their own template, which represents the group odour. It appears that the presence/absence of the queen did not affect nestmate recognition cues of workers. The second experiment demonstrated that 20-day IS workers were strongly aggressed by colony guards, irrespective of whether they were QL or QR. However, if they were permitted to exchange trophallaxis and grooming with 5 young nestmates (companion ants) for 5 days before reintroduction to their colony, aggression was greatly reduced, irrespective of the origin of the companion ants (QR or QL). Chemical analysis showed a significant divergence between the hydrocarbon profiles of IS and both QL and QR groups, but a prior contact of the IS workers with companion ants resulted in re-convergence of their profile with that of the colony. These results demonstrate that nestmate recognition cues are exchanged between workers via trophallaxis and grooming and that they are not dominated by queen cues, two conditions that fulfil Gestalt nestmate recognition signals requirements.
- Nestmate recognition
- Postpharyngeal gland