The kin recognition system of carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) - I. Hierarchical cues in small colonies

Norman F. Carlin, Bert Hölldobler

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196 Scopus citations


The phenotypic cues that provide for rejection of non-nestmates by workers of the ant genus Camponotus could derive from any or all of four sources: (1) environmental odors; (2) the individual's own genetically-determined recognition pheromones or "discriminators"; (3) a "gestalt" or mixture of transferable discriminators, produced by each nestmate and absorbed by all; and/or (4) the discriminators of the queen applied to all nestmates. To test these hypotheses, four series of small experimental colonies were created: inter- and intraspecific mixed colonies containing queens, queenless worker groups, and pairs of worker groups between which a single queen was repeatedly switched. Intraspecific mixed colonies and queenless groups were further divided into groups receiving different diets. Aggression of workers in 165 experimental colonies was assayed in a total of 4064 neutral arena tests. Workers adopted into inter- and intraspecific mixed colonies with queens were highly aggressive to unfamiliar kin from pure colonies, independent of diet and of the proportion of different kin groups in the colony. However, queenless workers exhibited less aggression to unfamiliar kin than to non-kin, demonstrating the existence of worker discriminators. Diet differences slightly enhanced aggression among unfamiliar queenless kin. Non-kin sharing a switched queen were as unaggressive to one another as were sisters. The ability to adopt queenless workers between colonies gradually declined over 1-2 wks following their emergence from pupae. We propose a hierarchy of importance of cue sources in determining nestmate discrimination in small Camponotus colonies: Queen discriminators> worker discriminators>environmental cues. A flow-diagram model of social insect kin recognition, based on the "phenotype matching" concept of Holmes and Sherman (1983), is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-134
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 1986
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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