Ants have yet again surprised the scientists. A new study published suggests that ants use their powerful sense of smell to identify the different members of their society. The study was conducted by UC Riverside researchers, led by Dr. Anandasankar Ray. The researchers tested the hydrocarbons present on the outer shells of the worker ants and cuticles of the queen ants using the Electrophysiology method.
Scientists used a powerful Electrophysiology method to test whether ants could sense trace levels of various hydrocarbons – previously identified as potentially significant in ant communication.
“We used Electrophysiology to investigate the detection of cuticular hydrocarbons by female-specific olfactory sensilla basiconica on the antenna of Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus),” the researchers said.
The electrodes functions as sensors to know whether each antenna detects different hydrocarbons and if the ant recognized the odor.
The tiny cathodes implanted on a single hair of an ant’s antenna helped to expose how the social insect reacts to even the slightest differences of hydrocarbons. In a way, each of these individual hydrocarbons act together in a “chemical barcode” which other individuals in a colony use for recognition of an ant’s caste or nest.
The study found that ants use their superior sense of smell to sense the chemicals present on the cuticles or outer shell of ants to differentiate members of their society from non- nestmates.
“To our surprise we found that these very low volatility compounds are not only detected sensitively by the ants” specialized antennal sensors, but nearly all of the hydrocarbon components are detected” said Anandasankar Ray, a neuroscientist and an associate professor of entomology at Riverside.
“Perhaps ants are brainier than we’ve given them credit for,” the scientists concluded.
The research, published on Aug. 13 in the journal Cell Reports.