Do ants of different species mix? (Janelle)


Hey there!

I am currently doing an experiment on ant repellent and I noticed something weird which I would like to inquire about. For my experiment, I used chicken skin as the attractant to test whether the repellent works. I was hoping to get the same type of ants for all the set-ups so that my experiment will be fair. However, one of my set-up had black medium-sized ants attracted while the other had small red ants and medium-sized, big head red ants attracted. Both set-ups were done at the same time under the same conditions. I was thinking whether it is because the black ants and red ants were of different colonies/groups and do not mix and have their own territory. (The 2 different types of red ants could be from the same family/species.) So when any one type of the ants leave their scent on the chicken skin, the other type of ants will not come and invade their territory when they smell a foreign scent and the same type of ant will come instead when they smell the particular scent from their same kind. Thus, whichever type of ant that stumbles first on the chicken skin and leave their scent, that chicken skin will be invaded by that type of ant. Is my reasoning correct? Also, is there any way to only attract one type of ants? Because my experiment can only have 1 type of ants to be fair.

Thank you!

Regards,
Janelle

Hi Janelle,

Thanks for your interesting question and sharing your observations with us!

Without a picture, it is always hard to tell which ant species you encountered. Information on your location would be very valuable to get an idea on the ants identity as different ants are distributed in different parts of the world.

Ants of a single species often have the same color. This means that the red and the black ants you observed most likely belong to two different species. However, the red small ants and the red bid headed ants might actually be different casts of the same species. For example, there is an ant genus named Pheidole, which has two or sometimes even three different casts. The big headed individuals are called the soldiers or major workers, while the little ones are called minor workers (but as any ant workers, these are all sterile females). Here is a picture of two ants from the same species and even same nest. In this picture, you see that not only is there a distinct difference in size and morphology (i.e., shape), but also the color between the two individuals differs.

PheBar6.JPG

Pheidole barbata - an ant species with two distinct casts. Photo from http://www.myrmecos.net.

As for whether ants are deterred if a different species has left pheromone trails, I think it depends on the species identity. A dominant species would not care, while a more timid species might be repelled.

For your experiment, I think that it does not matter whether you attract ants from one or more species. You could just note how many individuals of how many different types of ants were attracted (as species is sometimes hard to distinguish). Another approach could be that you go out and collect a bunch of ants from a single nest and then test their reaction to the chicken skin in a plastic box. This would also control for other factors, such as soil type etc.

Hope this helps!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


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