It has been common knowledge in the science community that an Ant’s antennae are used to receive information about their environment, but new studies show that they can do more than just that.
“An ant’s antennae are their chief sensory organs, but until now we never knew that they could also be used to send out information,” said the study’s lead author, PhD student Qike Wang, in a press release.
Thats right, an ant’s antennae not only are used to gather information, but they are also used to broadcast information to their little ant buddies (or not buddies). Scientists believe that the primary broadcast functionality of the ants antennae is to tell whether an ant comes from their colony, or an enemy colony. This is useful information because it tells the ant whether or not to be friendly or combative toward the other ant.
To figure all this out, Wang and his team studied hundreds of ants, focusing on cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs), a wax-like substance covering the bodies of ants, bees, flies and other insects that helps them avoid becoming dehydrated and is also a key to chemical communication.
The scientists observed that when they removed CHCs from only the antennae of an ant, leaving all other CHCs on the body intact, the non-nest-mates of the altered ant were not aggressive toward it, suggesting that the CHC-less ant’s “friend or foe” information was missing.
Thus, the researchers reasoned, the CHCs on the antennae serve particularly as a kind of beacon broadcasting an ant’s colony identification.
“Like everyone else,” Wang said, “we assumed that antennae were just receptors, but nature can still surprise us.”