Does geosmin affect ants? (Ian)

Dear Ask Ant Team,

I was reading about geosmin, produced by bacteria and released when they die and which gives a distinctive smell after rain.
Geosmin is very strongly aromatic and some researchers believe that humans can smell this compound at low levels of 5-10 parts per trillion. Others believe that geosmin enables camels to find water over distances of up to 50 miles.
Is there any research which shows that ants in arid dessert environments use geosmin to locate water?
Many thanks for your help.

kind regards,

Dear Ian,

Thanks for raising this very interesting question! In an article from 2002, researchers discovered that millipedes, not only bacteria, can produce geosmin. They tested the effect of geosmin on ants and found that ants were not affected. However, millipedes of the same species were repelled by geosmin. The researchers concluded that it plays a role for chemical comminication in millipedes. Apart from this paper, I am not aware of any studies that tested the effects of geosmin on ants. This would be interesting, because there are many different ant species which likely show different responses to this chemical. This is indeed an interesting topic!

This is the paper:

Omura, H; Kuwahara, Y; Tanabe, T (2002) 1-Octen-3-ol together with geosmin: New secretion compounds from a polydesmid millipede, Niponia nodulosa. Journal of Chemical Ecology 28(12): 2601-2612.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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