Antennal Olfactory Physiology and Behavior of Males of the Ponerine Ant Harpegnathos saltator

J Chem Ecol. 2018 Nov;44(11):999-1007. doi: 10.1007/s10886-018-1013-6. Epub 2018 Sep 7.


In comparison to the large amount of study on the communication abilities of females in ant societies and their associated chemical ecology and sensory physiology, such study of male ants has been largely ignored; accordingly, little is known about their olfactory sensory capabilities. To address this, we explored peripheral odor sensitivities in male Harpegnathos saltator by measuring the electrophysiological activity of olfactory sensory neurons within antennal trichoid and coeloconic sensilla using an extracellular recording technique. In an initial trial of 46 compounds, sensilla trichodea responded strongly to two alarm pheromone components, while a limited number of non-hydrocarbon odorants elicited strong responses in sensilla coeloconica. Both sensillar types responded indifferently to 31 cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) and synthetic long-chain hydrocarbons (HCs) typically found on insect cuticle. In a search for sensilla responding to CHCs and other compounds, we found some sensilla that responded to synthetic HCs and CHCs from virgin queen postpharyngeal glands that are potentially used in close range mate recognition. Olfactometer bioassays of male ants to 15 non-HCs correlated sensory responsiveness to the respective behavioral responses. Comparing olfactory responses between H. saltator males and females, we found that sensilla coeloconica and basiconica of workers showed greater responses and broader selectivity to all compounds. The rarity of CHC-responding trichoid sensilla in Harpegnathos males suggests a more specific role in sexual communication compared to that in females, which use CHCs in a broader communication context.

Keywords: Antennal sensilla; Electrophysiology; Hydrocarbons; Neurophysiology; Non-hydrocarbons; Odor coding.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal* / drug effects
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Hydrocarbons / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Olfactometry
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology*
  • Pheromones / chemistry
  • Pheromones / pharmacology
  • Sensilla / physiology


  • Hydrocarbons
  • Pheromones