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Cretaceous ants already communicated like current ones

Cretaceous ants already communicated like current ones

An international team of scientists has discovered that in the Cretaceous period, one hundred million years ago, ants They already had microscopic communication structures very similar to those of their descendants and current relatives.

The study, carried out based on the analysis of three ants preserved in amber, demonstrates that these ants were sophisticated chemical communicators, like those of today.

The details of the research – carried out by scientists from the universities of Hokkaido and Fukuoka (Japan), and the American Museum of Natural History in New York – were published this Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Previous work had documented groups of ants of the extinct species ‘Gerontoformica gracilis’ that had been preserved very close to each other, suggesting social behavior that, however, scientists could not justify. The new study shows that they had the necessary organs for this.

Chemical communication by pheromones

Most modern ants depend on communication to hunt, defend themselves, and reproduce as a cohesive nest. To communicate, they use pheromones detected by the sensory organs of their antennae, called antennal sensilla.

And although the pheromones used by these Cretaceous ants have been lost in time, their antennae have been preserved in amber.

However, due to the light scattering properties of amber, traditional imaging techniques could not capture these microstructures.

To solve this problem and be able to visualize these communication systems, Ryo Taniguchi and his colleagues developed an innovative imaging technique called confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM).

This invasive technique involves cutting the antennae and heads of three extinct G. gracilis ants, grinding and polishing the surrounding amber to a thickness of ~100μm, and rotating the specimens to capture images.

They then compared the distribution patterns of the ant sensilla with those observed in the antennae of six extant ant species from four subfamilies.

Analysis of the images showed four salient sensilla morphotypes in the extinct ants that were also found in extant ants. In fact, living ants use these four sensillars to detect alarm pheromones and molecularly determine whether a nearby creature is friend or foe.

These structures were concentrated at similar points on the antennae of all species, both extinct and extinct, which has allowed researchers to conclude that ants from 100 million years ago, members of the oldest known genus of ants, were also creatures social.

Source: Gestion

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