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Ant Pupae Employ Acoustics to Communicate Social Status in Their Colony’s Hierarchy

Current Biology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.01.010
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Musicology
  • Physics


Summary The possession of an efficient communication system and an ability to distinguish between young stages are essential attributes that enable eusocial insects to live in complex integrated societies [1–4]. Although ants communicate primarily via chemicals, it is increasingly clear that acoustical signals also convey important information, including status, between adults in many species [5–9]. However, all immature stages were believed to be mute [7]. We confirm that larvae and recently formed pupae of Myrmica ants are mute, yet once they are sclerotized, the pupae possess a fully functioning stridulatory organ. The sounds generated by worker pupae were similar to those of workers but were emitted as single pulses rather than in the long sequences characteristic of adults; both induced the same range and intensity of benevolent behaviors when played back to unstressed workers. Both white and sclerotized pupae have a higher social status than larvae within Myrmica colonies, but the latter’s status fell significantly after they were made mute. Our results suggest that acoustical signals supplant semiochemicals as a means of identification in sclerotized pupae, perhaps because their hardened integuments block the secretion of brood pheromones or because their developing adult secretions initially differ from overall colony odors [5, 10].

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