Nest area exploration and recognition in leafcutter ants (Atta cephalotes)

Bert Hölldobler, Edward O. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Workers of Atta cephalotes deposit "nest exit pheromones" in the vicinity of their nest entrances. Lasting for a period of at least 24 h, these substances orient the workers to the nest openings and increase the rate of trail laying, leaf cutting, and leaf retrieval. Their perception by the workers forms part of a cognitive map by which the ants adjust the form and level of their activity during foraging. The structure and behavioural roles of the known abdominal exocrine glands have been evaluated. An arrestant is produced by the hind gut. The pygidial gland is vestigial, and a cylindrical epithelium on the 7th abdominal sternite might function as a sternal gland. Both the Dufour's gland and valves gland are well developed and produce alarm pheromones. The valves gland is not the source of a territorial pheromone, as reported by previous authors, and in fact we could find no evidence of the existence of a special substance of this nature from any source. However, colony-specific substances, possibly one or more of the nest-exit pheromones, are deposited around the nest openings. When workers encounter deposits by alien colonies at this site, they increase the rate of abdominal dipping, thus seemingly adding colony-specific chemicals of their own.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-150
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of insect physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1986
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemical communication
  • ant behaviour
  • ant orientation
  • leafcutter ants
  • pheromones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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