Monday, 31 October 2016

Facultative slave-making ants formica sanguinea label their slaves with own recognition cues instead of employing the strategy of chemical mimicry.

2016 Oct 26. pii: S0022-1910(16)30164-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2016.10.016. [Epub ahead of print]

Author information

  • 1Department of Invertebrate Zoology, University of Białystok, Ciołkowskiego 1J, 15-245 Białystok, Poland. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Chemistry of Environment, University of Białystok, Ciołkowskiego 1K, 15-245 Białystok, Poland.


Slave-making ant species use the host workforce to ensure normal colony functioning. Slaves are robbed as pupae from their natal nest and after eclosion, assume the parasite colony as their own. A possible factor promoting the successful integration of slaves into a foreign colony is congruence with the slave-makers in terms of cuticular hydrocarbons, which are known to play the role of recognition cues in social insects. Such an adaptation is observed in the obligate slave-making ant species, which are chemically adjusted to their slaves. To date, however, no reports have been available on facultative slave-making species, which represent an earlier stage of the evolution of slavery. Such an example is Formica sanguinea, which exploit F. fusca colonies as their main source of a slave workforce. Our results show that F. sanguinea ants have a distinct cuticular hydrocarbon profile, which contains compounds not present in free-living F. fusca ants from potential target nests. Moreover, enslaved F. fusca ants acquire hydrocarbons from their slave-making nestmates to such an extent that they become chemically differentiated from free-living, conspecific ants. Our study shows that F. sanguinea ants promote their own recognition cues in their slaves, rather than employing the strategy of chemical mimicry. Possible reasons why F. sanguinea is not chemically well adjusted to its main host species are discussed in this paper.


Ants; Cuticular hydrocarbons; Nestmate recognition; Slave-making