Body odor plays an entirely more significant role in colonies, as ants use smell to differentiate their social standing among themselves. The tiny, community-oriented insects have been discovered to have such a powerful scent-detecting ability that is close to a superpower when compared to humans.
It has been previously known that ants have very sensitive atennae that respond to pheromones, which helps them recognize friendly allies that belong within their colony or wandering strangers that they’re not within the same ‘society’. However, a new research at the University of California, Riverside, has discovered that the ‘friend or foe?’ difference is not the only useful detail they can perfectly read.
According to lead author and associate professor of entomology, Anandasankar Ray, ants actively use the same sensors to distinguish between others within their own colony, be it minor worker, major worker or Queen.
Through very subtle, tiny cathodes implanted on a single hair of an ant’s antenna, they exposed how the social insect reacts to even the slightest differences of hydrocarbons. They conducted an experiment by providing the ant the choice between a hydrocarbon mixed with a sugar reward and one blended with plain water.
Through the miniscule sensor, they were able to understand that ants are highly sensitive to even the subtlest of chemical alterations, being able to know precisely how to distinguish small changes in odor. In fact, they are far more precise in their scent identifying technique than humans. They were able to not only detect hydrocarbons, but understand the very delicate blends they can form.
To recognize such small differences requires an excellent precision in sense of smell, which ants seem to often use in order to determine their place within the colony, along with easily recognizing the nearby co-workers. Their scent are “chemical barcodes” that each ant in particular has to tell all the others of their rank.
It’s a truly critical necessity for them to be able to accurately differentiate in between major groups within their swarming colony so they can achieve the excellent social experience they’re known to reach. Their astounding sense of smell is a major part of that vital task.
The findings embellish upon the already useful functions ants attribute to their antennae, as they’re often seen ‘sniffing each other out’ upon their first encounter. It’s no longer simply a matter of recognizing if they’re part of the same colony, but it’s essentially like “trading business cards”, according to professor Anandasankar Ray.
Ants have proven to have more acute and successful abilities at social interaction than previously thought, which further emphasize on their exceptional capability of working together within a colony of hundreds or even thousands of other workers, like a flawless monarchy.
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