E.O. Wilson – Chemical Signals

E.O. Wilson – Chemical Signals

Music; Ambience: Dawn chorus, Ventana Wilderness

JM: When you see hundreds of ants heading towards a picnic site in a straight line, you’ve got to wonder how they know where they’re going. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the 1950’s, it was discovered that ants communicate with chemical signals, and that trails of these chemicals are what ants use to find their way to food, among other things. Biologist E.O.Wilson.

EOW: “We discovered that ants, in fact, are communicating with one another with somewhere between according ten and twenty chemical signals which are substances they secrete in special glands around the body, and other ants of the colony smell these substances, or taste them, and react accordingly. So by the late 50’s I decided I would see if there wasn’t some way that we could figure out which chemicals are active as sign stimuli. And what I did was to take fire ants which I cultured in the laboratory, and I dissected them from one end to the next, pulling out the glands that have all kinds of functions — digestion, regurgitating food, and I made artificial trails with a little brush. And I kept it up, gland by gland, until voila! Suddenly, one very, very small, inconspicuous gland down at the end of the body – when I spread that out in an artificial trail, it caused an explosive response, and I knew I’d nailed it.”

JM: The ants began following the artificial trail. The next stage of the experiment, then, was to identify the chemicals which the ants were producing. Thanks to Professor Wilson and his colleagues, we now know that ants secrete a variety of substances called pheromones, which help them communicate with each other via chemical signals.

JM: Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.

E.O. Wilson - Chemical Signals

Chemical secretions bring a new meaning to the science of insect communication.
Air Date:11/07/2012
Scientist:
Transcript:

E.O. Wilson - Chemical Signals

Music; Ambience: Dawn chorus, Ventana Wilderness

JM: When you see hundreds of ants heading towards a picnic site in a straight line, you've got to wonder how they know where they're going. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the 1950's, it was discovered that ants communicate with chemical signals, and that trails of these chemicals are what ants use to find their way to food, among other things. Biologist E.O.Wilson.

EOW: "We discovered that ants, in fact, are communicating with one another with somewhere between according ten and twenty chemical signals which are substances they secrete in special glands around the body, and other ants of the colony smell these substances, or taste them, and react accordingly. So by the late 50's I decided I would see if there wasn't some way that we could figure out which chemicals are active as sign stimuli. And what I did was to take fire ants which I cultured in the laboratory, and I dissected them from one end to the next, pulling out the glands that have all kinds of functions -- digestion, regurgitating food, and I made artificial trails with a little brush. And I kept it up, gland by gland, until voila! Suddenly, one very, very small, inconspicuous gland down at the end of the body - when I spread that out in an artificial trail, it caused an explosive response, and I knew I'd nailed it."

JM: The ants began following the artificial trail. The next stage of the experiment, then, was to identify the chemicals which the ants were producing. Thanks to Professor Wilson and his colleagues, we now know that ants secrete a variety of substances called pheromones, which help them communicate with each other via chemical signals.

JM: Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.