How rapid is rapid antennation in trap-jaw ants?

A video and blog post highlighting the article by O’Fallon, Suarez and Smith in Insectes Sociaux

Written by Adrian Smith and Andy Suarez

Our new study describing rapid antennation behavior in Odonotmachus trap-jaw ants relied on high-speed videography. To the human eye, this behavior is an unintelligible blurry burst of action. Video is the only means of making any sense out of it. So, when we thought about how to publically communicate this piece of science, making a video seemed the most appropriate medium.

Hopefully, the video above gives you a sense of what the main goal of this research was: to describe how rapid, rapid antennation is in four species of ants. We thought this question was worthy of asking for a few reasons. First and foremost we thought: how cool would it be if we recorded a bunch of slow-motion videos of ants punching each other with their antennae? Then we also came up with some more scientifically-oriented reasons.

Research from Sainath Suryanarayanan and colleagues on wasp antennal drumming behavior showed that antennal drumming evokes physiological responses only when it’s performed at a particular rate. Rapid antennal striking behavior, similar to rapid antennal drumming, is common in many Ponerine ants. Previous research on one of our study species Odontomachus brunneus by Scott Powell and Walter Tschinkel showed that dominance behavior in the form of rapid antennation between workers is responsible for creating a division of labor between nest workers and foragers. However, to our knowledge, no one had quantified the frequency of rapid antennation behavior for any ant species. So, we thought doing a small comparative study of the rates of rapid antennation in trap-jaw ants would be particularly informative. If we found that four species of ants all performed rapid antennation at the same rate, this might be evidence of selection for an evolutionarily conserved direct link between frequency and physiological response like what is seen in wasps. We also thought that it would be interesting to see if antennal rates differed when they are delivered to nestmates rather than non-nestmates.

We didn’t end up finding evidence for conserved rapid antennation rates in these species. Average rates of rapid antennation per species ranged from 19.5 to 41.5 strikes per second. Next, for O. brunneus we found that rapid antennation behavior is quantitatively similar when the interactions involve nestmates or non-nestmates. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we ended up answering our first research question: yes, it’s pretty cool to be able to make a lot of slow motion videos of ants fighting.

Note from blog editor: if you want to see more amazing videos about ants and science, check out Adrian Smith’s YouTube channel here.

One thought on “How rapid is rapid antennation in trap-jaw ants?

  1. Pingback: Fast Jaws | monsterminions

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