1 Tahrcountry Musings: Bugs and the Art of Fooling The Ants

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bugs and the Art of Fooling The Ants

Mutualism exhibited by Acacia plants and ants is a well known phenomenon. The plants provide the ants with shelter and food in the form of nectar and protein. As a quid pro quo the ants defend the tree against anything that comes near the trees in the form of insects, birds and small mammals.

One species of bug, in the family Coreidae, is an exception. These bugs exploit the plants without giving anything in return. They cleverly outwit the defending ants. Scientists have been long puzzled by this phenomenon.

Susan Whitehead of the University of Colorado decided to have a closer look at this phenomenon of how the bugs fool the ants.

Ants use pheromones to communicate with one another. Whitehead presumed the bugs were mimicking the scent of the ants. When the bugs were immobilized the ants still did not attack them. But when the researchers washed the bugs in a chemical solvent and returned them to the plants, the ants immediately attacked the bugs.

The key to this puzzle was the removal of chemicals on the bugs' exoskeleton. Resorting to chromatography and spectrometry, the researchers compared the bugs' exoskeletal chemicals with that of the ants. The scientists were bang on target. The chemicals in the bugs' cuticle matched that of the ants. The bugs were mimicking the hydrocarbons that the ants produce and the ants don't recognize them as something foreign.

Details of this interesting piece of research work is published in the current issue of journal PloS One

1 comment:

Sarah Daniel said...

Nice ,really nice info