Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 12, pp 2281–2292 | Cite as

Specificity in Chemical Profiles of Workers, Brood and Mutualistic Fungi in Atta, Acromyrmex, and Sericomyrmex Fungus-growing Ants

  • Freddie-Jeanne Richard
  • Michael Poulsen
  • Falko Drijfhout
  • Graeme Jones
  • Jacobus J. Boomsma


Neotropical attine ants live in obligatory symbiosis with a fungus that they grow for food on a substrate of primarily plant material harvested by workers. Nestmate recognition is likely based on chemical cues as in most other social insects, but recent studies have indicated that both the ants and their mutualistic fungi may contribute to the recognition templates. To investigate the within-colony variation in chemical profiles, we extracted and identified compounds from the cuticle of workers, the postpharyngeal gland of workers, ant pupae and larvae, and the fungal symbiont of three species of higher attine ants: Atta colombica, Acromyrmex echinatior, and Sericomyrmex amabilis. The relative proportions of identified compounds were compared and represented 11 classes: n-alkanes, alkenes, branched methylalkanes, branched dimethylalkanes, trimethylalkanes, branched alkenes, aldehydes, alcohols, acetates, acids, and esters. The chemical profiles in all three species are likely to be sufficiently different to allow discrimination at the species and colony level and sufficiently similar within colonies to generate a relatively constant colony-specific chemical gestalt. The relative likelihood of individual compounds being derived from the ants, the ant brood, or the fungal symbiont are discussed. We hypothesize that hydrocarbons are particularly important as recognition cues because they appear to simultaneously allow the assessment of developmental stages and the identification of symbiont, colony, and species.


Cuticular hydrocarbons Colony odor Recognition Symbiosis 



We thank the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) for providing logistic help and facilities to work in Gamboa and the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente y el Mar (ANAM) for permission to sample ant colonies in Panama and export them to Denmark. Fieldwork was supported by grants from the Carlsberg Foundation and the Danish Natural Science Research Council to JJB. All experiments performed in this manuscript comply with current Danish and USA law.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Freddie-Jeanne Richard
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael Poulsen
    • 3
    • 4
  • Falko Drijfhout
    • 1
  • Graeme Jones
    • 1
  • Jacobus J. Boomsma
    • 3
  1. 1.Chemical Ecology group, Lennard Jones LaboratoriesKeele UniversityStaffordshireEngland
  2. 2.Department of EntomologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  3. 3.Department of Population Biology, Institute of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.Department of BacteriologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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