Detection of minute temperature transients by thermosensitive neurons in ants

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Sep;104(3):1249-56. doi: 10.1152/jn.00390.2010. Epub 2010 Jun 23.


The antennae of leaf-cutting ants are equipped with sensilla coeloconica that house three receptor neurons, one of which is thermosensitive. Using convective heat (air at different temperatures), we investigated the physiological characteristics of the thermosensitive neuron associated with the sensilla coeloconica in the leaf-cutting ant Atta vollenweideri. The thermosensitive neuron very quickly responds to a drop in temperature with a brief phasic increase (50 ms) in spike rate and thus classifies as cold receptor (ambient temperature = 24°C). The short latency and the brief phasic response enable the thermosensitive neuron to follow temperature transients up to an estimated frequency of around 5 Hz. Although the neuron responds as a cold receptor, it is extremely sensitive to warm stimuli. A temperature increase of only 0.005°C already leads to a pronounced decrease in the resting activity of the thermosensitive neuron. Through sensory adaptation, the sensitivity to temperature transients is maintained over a wide range of ambient temperatures (18-30°C). We conclude that the thermosensitive neuron of the sensilla coeloconica is adapted to detect minute temperature transients, providing the ants with thermal information of their microenvironment, which they may use for orientation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Hot Temperature
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Thermoreceptors / physiology*
  • Thermosensing / physiology*