Differentiated Anti-Predation Responses in a Superorganism

Thomas A O'Shea-Wheller, Ana B Sendova-Franks, Nigel R Franks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

6 Citations (Scopus)
231 Downloads (Pure)


Insect societies are complex systems, displaying emergent properties much greater than the sum of their individual parts. As such, the concept of these societies as single ‘superorganisms’ is widely applied to describe their organisation and biology. Here, we test the applicability of this concept to the response of social insect colonies to predation during a vulnerable period of their life history. We used the model system of house-hunting behaviour in the ant Temnothorax albipennis. We show that removing individuals from directly within the nest causes an evacuation response, while removing ants at the periphery of scouting activity causes the colony to withdraw back into the nest. This suggests that colonies react differentially, but in a coordinated fashion, to these differing types of predation. Our findings lend support to the superorganism concept, as the whole society reacts much like a single organism would in response to attacks on different parts of its body. The implication of this is that a collective reaction to the location of worker loss within insect colonies is key to avoiding further harm, much in the same way that the nervous systems of individuals facilitate the avoidance of localised damage.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0141012
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2015


  • Predation
  • Ants
  • Insect pheromones
  • Alarm pheromones
  • Insect Physiology
  • Neurons
  • Pheromones
  • Insects

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Differentiated Anti-Predation Responses in a Superorganism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    O'Shea-Wheller, T. A., Sendova-Franks, A. B., & Franks, N. R. (2015). Differentiated Anti-Predation Responses in a Superorganism. PLoS ONE, 10(11), [e0141012]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141012