How Ants Talk so Quickly? Japanese Scientists Finally Decode it

Using one of the antennae on its head, an ant accesses information provided by hydrocarbons on the body surface of another ant, enabling nestmate and caste recognition, and instruction about occupational tasks. CREDIT: Kobe University.

It is common knowledge that ants just smooch on their way and go ahead and the smooch seen by us actually means passing on loads of information to the other ant by just touching the antennae. How they do it has been revealed by a Japanese research group that has identified chemosensory proteins (CSPs), which are key to communication between worker ants.

Hojo Masaru, Sakura Midori and Pzaki Mamiko of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Science and other researchers from the National Institute for Basic Biology, said CSPs play important roles in communications between worker ants.

CSPs may represent a starting point for elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in the sophisticated system of communication that supports ants’ complex societies, and the evolution, they said in their paper published in Scientific Reports on August 27.

Unlike other creatures, ant uses one of the antennae on its head and passes on hyrocarbon to another ant which absorbs information about nestmate, caste recognition, and instructions about occupational tasks, they revealed.

Ants, being highly social insects, form highly organized societies on the basis of very close communication between individuals, mediated by pheromones and other chemical substances. Though earlier studies have obtained the genomes of several ant species, genes linked to chemosensitivity in ants have been shown to be diverse.

The Kobe University research group which has previously showed that one type of CSP1, CjapCSP1, binds with cuticular hydrocarbons2 that play important roles in ant-to-ant communication, and that this is linked to nestmate recognition behavior by worker ants.

In their latest finding, Prof Hojo Masaru’s research group extracted RNA from the antennae of the Japanese carpenter ant (Camponotus japonicus), with support from the laboratory of Inoue Kunio at Kobe University’s Biology Department, and comprehensively analyzed the genes expressed on the antennae using a next-generation DNA-sequencer and supercomputer at the National Institute for Basic Biology.

The nucleotide sequences of 11 novel CSPs were elucidated, and analyzed for the CSP expression levels. The group finally succeeded in identifying two CSPs — CjapCSP12 and CjapCSP13 — that are particularly diverse among ants, and that are expressed specifically by the principal chemosensory organs of worker ants, especially the antennae.

Essentially, ants transferred information through their antennae, and have the capacity to recognize complex individual information transmitted by cuticular hydrocarbons, said the study. “This provides a starting point for elucidation of the molecular basis for, and evolution of, the sophisticated communication seen in ant societies,” said Prof. Masaru.

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