Perceptual differences in trail-following leaf-cutting ants relate to body size

C. J. Kleineidam, W. Rössler, Berthold Hoelldobler, F. Roces

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta have highly size-polymorphic workers, and size is related to division of labor. We studied trail-following behavior of different-sized workers in a laboratory colony of Atta vollenweideri. For small and large workers, we measured responsiveness and preference to artificial conspecific and heterospecific pheromone trails made from poison gland extracts of A. vollenweideri and A. sexdens. Responsiveness was measured as the probability of trail-following, and preference was measured by testing the discrimination between one conspecific and one heterospecific trail. Minute amounts of the releaser component methyl-4-methylpyrrole-2-carboxylate (0.4 pg/1 m), present in both, conspecific and heterospecific trails, suffice to elicit trail-following behavior. Workers followed heterospecific trails, and these trails (after normalizing their concentration) were as effective as conspecific trails. Small workers were less likely to follow a trail of a given concentration than large workers. In the discrimination test, small workers preferred the conspecific trail over the heterospecific trail, whereas large workers showed no significant preference. It is suggested that large workers primarily respond to the releaser component present in both trails, whereas small workers focus more on the conspecific traits provided by the blend of components contained in the trail pheromone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1233-1241
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of insect physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Alloethism
  • Chemical communication
  • Division of labor
  • Pheromone
  • Task allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Insect Science


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