Polymorphism: A weak influence on worker aggregation level in ants

Stéphanie Depickère, G. Marcelo Ramírez Ávila, Dominique Fresneau, Jean Louis Deneubourg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


1. Aggregation of individuals, a basic behaviour in social species, plays an essential role in many aspects of animal life (reproduction, defence, and alimentation). Understanding how this phenomenon is modulated is important to comprehend the social organisation of the group. 2. In social insects, aggregation is influenced by environmental (e.g. the light level) and social (e.g. polyethism in monomorphic ants) factors. Ants display a great variation of biological characteristics (e.g. queen number, polymorphism, division of labour, etc.) that are likely to influence the level of inter-attraction and so the aggregation. 3. The present research focused on one biological characteristic: the morphological castes (minors, majors), testing the hypothesis that minors will aggregate more than majors due to their greater need to fight against the loss of heat and to increase their self-protection. 4. Aggregation experiments were conducted on two highly polymorphic species, Atta sexdens rubropilosa and Solenopsis interrupta, using the two extreme morphological castes (majors and minors). 5. All castes exhibited a low level of aggregation: 40-50% of workers assembled for both species, the biggest cluster involving 20% of the total population. The lack of difference between morphological castes in the aggregation shows the weak influence of polymorphism on the interactions between ants. 6. It is concluded that the main factor modulating the aggregation behaviour is polyethism, i.e. the division of labour associated with the presence of an outside-the-nest experience: workers that only take care of the brood, without outside world experience (brood-tenders) assembling more than foraging workers (foragers).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-231
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Atta sexdens rubropilosa
  • Lasius niger
  • Polyethism
  • Self-assembling
  • Social interactions
  • Solenopsis interrupta


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