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Molecular biology
Behavioral ecology

Molecular evidence of chemical disguise by the socially parasitic spiny ant Polyrhachis lamellidens (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) when invading a host colony


Iwai et al., 2022, Front Ecol Evol, 10:915517

While most ant species establish a colony independently, some socially parasitic ants build the foundation of their colony by invading other ant (host) colonies and utilizing their labor forces. Many socially parasitic ants disguise their cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profile, which is also known as signature mixture for nestmate discrimination, when invading the host colony. Since the strategy of chemical disguise is widespread in socially parasitic ants, elucidating the mechanism of chemical disguise will promote knowledge on the evolutionary history of social parasitism. However, detailed knowledge is still lacking, as the relevant information has only originated from circumstantial evidence, which was obtained from ecological observations. In this study, we investigated the mechanism of chemical disguise in a new queen of a temporary socially parasitic spiny ant (Polyrhachis lamellidens) by measuring its CHC profile, performing a tracing assay with labeled substances, and analyzing gene expression levels. First, after rubbing behavior was observed against the host workers, the CHC profile in P. lamellidens shifted to pronounced peaks that closely resembling that of the host workers. We also observed a reduction in aggressive behaviors by the host ant against P. lamellidens after rubbing behavior was performed. In addition, P. lamellidens acquired artificially-applied labeling substances from host workers through their rubbing behaviors, while gene expression profiling showed the expression of CHC synthesis-related genes did not change during this behavior. These results suggest that P. lamellidens directly obtains host CHCs through rubbing behavior, and these host CHCs enables P. lamellidens to remain disguised during colony invasion.

Initial parasitic behaviour of the temporary social parasitic ant Polyrhachis lamellidens can be induced by host-like cuticles in laboratory environment

Kurihara et al., 2022, Biology Open, 11(3):bio058956

Polyrhachis lamellidens is a temporary social parasitic species. When a newly mated queen encounters a host worker, it opens its jaws, mounts and rubs the body of the host worker, called rubbing behaviour. This behaviour is different from aggressive behaviour and is considered to be a preparatory action before invasion of the host colony. However, it is unclear what cues trigger rubbing behaviour. Therefore, in this study, we used glass beads that imitated the insect body surfaces and searched for triggers. Although P. lamellidens did not respond to the cuticular compounds only, cuticular compounds and chitin coatings on glass beads elicited responses that were similar to those towards live samples. The rubbing behaviour of P. lamellidens was elicited in response to a cuticle-like surface that mimicked a procuticle by combining the compounds with chitin. These results suggest that host recognition and nest-mate recognition are supported by different mechanisms.


The evidence of temporary social parasitism by Polyrhachis lamellidens (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) in a Camponotus obscuripes colony (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)

Iwai et al., 2021, Insectes Sociaux, 68, 375-382.

Polyrhachis lamellidens is a temporary socially parasitic ant whose new queen utilizes other ant species in the early stages of colony foundation. Field observations and rearing experiments suggest that Camponotus japonicus is a host species of P. lamellidens. It is presumed that Camponotus obscuripes is also a host of P. lamellidens by rearing experiments and field observations; however, there are no records of P. lamellidens workers or brood coexisting in C. obscuripes colonies in field observations, and there is no clear evidence that C. obscuripes is a natural host of P. lamellidens. We conducted detailed field observations, behavioral tests, and rearing experiments to show that C. obscuripes is a host of temporary social parasites. We found colonies with P. lamellidens queens, workers, and larvae intermixed with C. obscuripes workers in the field. Behavioral tests showed that workers of both species in mixed colonies did not attack each other and maintained nestmate recognition ability, which suggests a collaborative nestmate relationship. Furthermore, a rearing experiment confirmed social parasitism by P. lamellidens among C. obscuripes by producing a mixed brood-producing colony. These are the first field and laboratory records of temporary social parasitism involving P. lamellidens and C. obscuripes.

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