Serotonin, a biogenic amine known to be a neuromodulator of insect behavior, has recently been associated with age-related patterns of task performance in the ant Pheidole dentata. We identified worker age- and subcaste-related patterns of serotonergic activity within the optic lobes of the P. dentata brain to further examine its relationship to polyethism. We found strong immunoreactivity in the optic lobes of the brains of both minor and major workers. Serotonergic cell bodies in the optic lobes increased significantly in number as major and minor workers matured. Old major workers had greater numbers of serotonergic cell bodies than minors of a similar age. This age-related increase in serotonergic immunoreactivity, as well as the presence of diffuse serotonin networks in the mushroom bodies, antennal lobes, and central complex, occurs concomitantly with an increase in the size of worker task repertoires. Our results suggest that serotonin is associated with the development of the visual system, enabling the detection of task-related stimuli outside the nest, thus playing a significant role in worker behavioral development and colony-wide division of labor.
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