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How social insects recognize dead nestmates
Date:5/5/2009

RIVERSIDE, Calif. When an ant dies in an ant nest or near one, its body is quickly picked up by living ants and removed from the colony, thus limiting the risk of colony infection by pathogens from the corpse.

The predominant understanding among entomologists scientists who study insects was that dead ants release chemicals created by decomposition (such as fatty acids) that signal their death to the colony's living ants.

But now UC Riverside entomologists working on Argentine ants provide evidence for a different mechanism for how necrophoresis the removal of dead nestmates from colonies works.

In a research paper published online this week in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that all ants, both living and dead, have the "death chemicals" continually, but live ants have them along with other chemicals associated with life the "life chemicals." When an ant dies, its life chemicals dissipate or are degraded, and only the death chemicals remain.

"It's because the dead ant no longer smells like a living ant that it gets carried to the graveyard, not because its body releases new, unique chemicals after death," said Dong-Hwan Choe, the lead author of the research paper and a graduate student working towards his doctoral degree with Michael Rust, a professor of entomology at UCR.

Choe explained that the research paper's results resolve a conundrum of long-standing in animal behavior and correct a misinterpretation of previous results that has become both popular and widespread in literature.

"There is no mistaking that it is the dissipation of chemical signals associated with life rather than the increase of a decomposition product 'death cue' that tri
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@ucr.edu
951-827-6050
University of California - Riverside
Source:Eurekalert  

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