Chemical communication during foraging in the harvesting ants Messor pergandei and Messor andrei

Nicola J R Plowes, Tom Colella, Robert A. Johnson, Berthold Hoelldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We combined behavioral analyses in the laboratory and field to investigate chemical communication in the formation of foraging columns in two Nearctic seed harvesting ants, Messor pergandei and Messor andrei. We demonstrate that both species use poison gland secretions to lay recruitment trails. In M. pergandei, the recruitment effect of the poison gland is enhanced by adding pygidial gland secretions. The poison glands of both species contain 1-phenyl ethanol. Minute quantities (3 μl of a 0.1 ppm solution) of 1-phenyl ethanol drawn out along a 40 cm long trail released trail following behavior in M. pergandei, while M. andrei required higher concentrations (0.5-1 ppm). Messor pergandei workers showed weak trail following to 5 ppm trails of the pyrazines 2,5-dimethylpyrazine and 2,3,5-trimethylpyrazine, whereas M. andrei workers showed no behavioral response. Minute quantities of pyrazines were detected in M. pergandei but not in M. andrei poison glands using single ion monitoring gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-137
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • 1-phenylethanol
  • Column foraging
  • Harvester ants
  • Poison gland
  • Recruitment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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