Do ants need to be old and experienced to teach?

Elizabeth L. Franklin, Elva J. H. Robinson, James A. R. Marshall, Ana B. Sendova-Franks, Nigel R. Franks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Learning is widespread in invertebrates. However, whether social insects improve their recruitment skills with experience is only beginning to be investigated. Tandem running is a one-to-one form of recruitment used by certain species of ant. It is a remarkable communication system that meets widely accepted criteria for teaching in non-human animals. Here, we determined experimentally to what extent participation in, and efficient execution of, tandem running depends on either the age or the experience of worker ants. To investigate these issues, we constructed colonies of the ant Temnothorax albipennis with different compositions of inexperienced and experienced workers from different age cohorts and then examined which ants participated in tandem runs when they emigrated. Our results show that the ability to participate actively in recruitment by tandem running is present in all worker age groups but the propensity to participate varies with experience rather than age per se. Experienced individuals were more likely to engage in tandem runs, either as leaders or as followers, than young inexperienced individuals, and older experienced ants were more likely to lead tandems than older inexperienced ants. Young inexperienced ants led faster, more rapidly dispersing and less accurately orientated tandem runs than the older experienced ants. Our study suggests that experience (rather than age per se) coupled to stimulus threshold responses might interact to promote a division of labour so that a suitable number of workers actively participate in tandem runs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1292
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


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