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No AccessNatural History Note

Density of Antennal Sensilla Influences Efficacy of Communication in a Social Insect

Effective communication requires reliable signals and competent receptors. Theoretical and empirical accounts of animal signaling focus overwhelmingly on the capacity of the signaler to convey the message. Nevertheless, the intended receiver’s ability to detect a signal depends on the condition of its receptor organs, as documented for humans. The impact of receptor organ condition on signal reception and its consequences for functional behavior are poorly understood. Social insects use antennae to detect chemical odors that distinguish between nestmates and enemies, reacting aggressively to the latter. We investigated the impact of antennal condition, determined by the density of sensilla, on the behavior of the weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina. Worker aggression depended upon the condition of their antennae: workers with fewer sensilla on their antennae reacted less aggressively to nonnestmate enemies. These novel data highlight the largely unappreciated significance of receptor organ condition for animal communication and may have implications for coevolutionary processes in animal communication.