Segregation of colony odor in the desert ant Cataglyphis niger

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


There are two separate, and presumably opposing, processes that affect colony odor in the desert ant Cataglyphis niger: (1) biosynthesis and turnover of these chemicals by individual ants, and (2) homogenization of colony odor through exchange of cues. The first increases signal variability; the latter decreases it. The impact of these factors was tested by splitting colonies and monitoring the profile changes occurring in the postpharyngeal glands (PPG) and cuticular hydrocarbons. From each of two polygynous nests four daughter colonies were formed, three monogynous and one queenless. Thereafter, 10 ants from each were randomly selected each month, for three successive months, for analyses of their PPG and cuticular hydrocarbons. From two colonies we also obtained ants from a known matriline. Over time,.there was a shift in hydrocarbon profiles of both the PPG and cuticular washes in each of the tested colonies. Moreover, by subjecting selected hydrocarbon constituents to a discriminant analyses based on their relative proportions, all of the daughter colonies (queenright and queenless) were distinguishable from each other and from their respective mother colonies. In each of the queenright daughter colonies, the queen profile was indiscriminable from that of the workers and often was in the center of the group. Full sisters were clearly distinguishable from their nestmates, emphasizing the genetic versus environmental processes that govern colony odor. The effect of time was always superior to the separation effect in contributing to odor segregation. Comparison of the Mahalanobis distances indicated that the shift in hydrocarbon seems to proceed along parallel lines rather than in divergence. However, there was no overt aggression between ants that originated from the different subgroups in dyadic encounters. It appears that in this species a three-month separation period is not sufficient to change the hydrocarbon profile beyond the recognition threshold.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-943
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001


  • Cataglyphys niger
  • Gestalt
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Postpharyngeal gland

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