Mixed messages: Fertility signaling interferes with nestmate recognition in the monogynous ant Camponotus floridanus

Dani Moore, Juergen Liebig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Chemical communication is crucial for the organization of social insect colonies. However, with the heavy use of one communication modality, problems may arise such as the interference of different types of information. This study investigated how information about fertility and colony membership is integrated in the ant Camponotus floridanus. We introduced into mature, queenright colonies (a) the nestmate queen, (b) a nestmate worker, (c) a foreign, high-fertility queen, (d) a foreign, low-fertility queen, and (e) a foreign worker. As expected, workers did not attack their nestmate queen or a nestmate worker but responded aggressively to foreign workers and foreign, low-fertility queens. Surprisingly, workers did not attack foreign, high-fertility queens. Chemical analysis demonstrated that the cuticular hydrocarbon profile of C. floridanus encodes information about fertility status in queens and workers and colony membership in workers. We suggest that ants respond to this information in the cuticular hydrocarbon profile: individuals with strong fertility signals are accepted regardless of their colony membership, but individuals without strong fertility signals are tolerated only if their cuticular hydrocarbon profile matches that of colony members. Learning how social insects respond to multiple types of information presented together is critical to our understanding of the recognition systems that permit the complex organization of social insect colonies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1011-1018
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Cuticular hydrocarbons
  • Fertility signal
  • Formicidae
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Queen pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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