Silverfish steal ants’ scent as well food

December 1st, 2011 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 1 (IANS) Silverfish co-exist peacefully with army ants by tricking them into believing that they are one of their own.

Silverfish persuade the ants to believe that they are not invaders by pilfering their hosts’ chemical scent, and cleverly avoid being killed or ejected from the nest.

These ants have limited eyesight and live in a world of chemical cues, recognizing their colony members by scent, the journal BMC Ecology reports.

Christoph von Beeren and Volker Witte from the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, collected ants and silverfish from the tropical rainforests of Ulu Gombak, Malaysia.

They found that, while the ants had 70 distinct hydrocarbon compounds on their cuticles, silverfish had none that are distinct for them. Instead, they carried the host colony scent, a phenomenon known as chemical mimicry, according to a Ludwig statement.

By tracking the transfer of tagged hydrocarbon from host ants to silverfish, it became apparent that the silverfish pilfered their host’s scent, preferably by rubbing against defenseless ‘callows’ (immature ants).

Isolating silverfish from the colony resulted in them losing their protective scent and being targeted for chasing, seizing and biting by worker ants, sometimes resulting in their death.

Witte, a professor, explained: “It seems that silverfish and ants are engaged in a co-evolutionary arms race. The ants have equipped themselves with a complicated scent recognition system to safeguard their nest from predators and parasites.”

“Consequently, the silverfish have access to food and shelter in the inner part of the ants’ nest without giving anything in return.”

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