Ants are generally regarded as being tremendously hard workers and extremely good team players, as their colonies are the perfect example of successful team work. People consider them remarkable for being able to carry immense loads that greatly exceed their body weight, but it seems that there is yet another aspect in which the ants have proven to be absolutely extraordinary.
A team of researchers has recently revealed that they have a highly developed sense of smell that lies at the basis of their social interactions. It seems that they can smell each other and get a complete set of information on each other, thus making their body odor their identification method that is displayed at all times.
Firstly, the ants can find out whether the individual next to them is a friend or not. Intruders are extremely bad news for the colony and as soon as one of these is detected, the ants know that it has to be eliminated immediately, before it can cause any type of damage.
Furthermore, it is an ant’s smell that labels it as a worker ant or a queen and as a member of one colony or another. By smelling each other, the ants know that they need to stick together and they can also find out which ant is in charge.
And this type of olfactory process is an extremely sensitive one, as revealed by this recent study conducted by University of California at Riverside. The researchers attached high-tech sensors on individual small hairs on the ants’ antennae and then measured the electric activity associated with a series of olfactory determinations.
Their findings reveal that their sense of smell can go into extensive detail, as they are able to distinguish the the unique smell of a chemical compound down to hydrocarbon level. Moreover, their identification body odor is determined by the type and combination of these hydrocarbon compounds.
Anandasankar Ray, a neuroscientist with the University of California at Riverside and the lead author of this amazing study pointed out that the ants “able to distinguish very well between very closely related [compounds]. They are able to tell the difference between a hydrocarbon with 25 carbon atoms versus 24 atoms.”
This means that not only does an average ant have a much keener sense of smell than an average human, but the average ant can get a much more sensitive interpretation of olfactory information than any highly trained sommelier on the planet.
The findings of the University of California at Riverside ant study have been published in Thursday’s edition of the scientific journal Cell Reports.
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