E.O. Wilson – Ant Communication

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Whether they’re in trouble or just out looking for food, ants have the remarkable ability to coordinate the activities of their entire colony. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Ants secrete hormones from their bodies when they need to communicate with other colony members, and these chemicals known as pheromones, can signal other ants in a number of ways. Biologist E.O.Wilson was one of the first to study the ant’s pheromone secretions.

“Beginning back in the 60’s, my colleagues and I made a rather remarkable discovery about the nature of the pheromones. And the discovery was that the kind of organic chemical used as a pheromone that the ants would taste or smell, varies enormously from one category to the next. That is from say alarm, to a colony odor, to identification, by which the ants identify which colony they belong to, and so on.”

A single ant will leave a trail of pheromones behind it when it wants assistance from other ants.

“Uh, they’re not really touching or testing the liquid that’s laid on the ground, so much as they are detecting the substance in the air that’s evaporating off that. So if you look at ants in slow motion films, you see that they’re sweeping their antennae sideways, back and forth. In a few species they then not only lay the trail up to other workers in the colony, but upon contact signal ’em by touching ’em a certain way with their forelegs or with their antennae, exciting them further and passing on to them the information of what it is that the ant desires her nest mates to do.”

Our thanks to entomologist, E. O. Wilson. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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E.O. Wilson - Ant Communication

A variety of chemical exchanges enable ants to navigate their world and coordinate their activities.
Air Date:11/22/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music

Whether they're in trouble or just out looking for food, ants have the remarkable ability to coordinate the activities of their entire colony. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Ants secrete hormones from their bodies when they need to communicate with other colony members, and these chemicals known as pheromones, can signal other ants in a number of ways. Biologist E.O.Wilson was one of the first to study the ant's pheromone secretions.

"Beginning back in the 60's, my colleagues and I made a rather remarkable discovery about the nature of the pheromones. And the discovery was that the kind of organic chemical used as a pheromone that the ants would taste or smell, varies enormously from one category to the next. That is from say alarm, to a colony odor, to identification, by which the ants identify which colony they belong to, and so on."

A single ant will leave a trail of pheromones behind it when it wants assistance from other ants.

"Uh, they're not really touching or testing the liquid that's laid on the ground, so much as they are detecting the substance in the air that's evaporating off that. So if you look at ants in slow motion films, you see that they're sweeping their antennae sideways, back and forth. In a few species they then not only lay the trail up to other workers in the colony, but upon contact signal 'em by touching 'em a certain way with their forelegs or with their antennae, exciting them further and passing on to them the information of what it is that the ant desires her nest mates to do."

Our thanks to entomologist, E. O. Wilson. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music