Sniffing It Out

Chemical recognition is an extremely important facility for most species. Of course, we enjoy smelling the flowers, freshly baked bread or our morning coffee, but sensing chemical messengers can be critical to survival, not just for what we call “higher animals,” but to our friends who live closer to the ground than we do. Papers in the current issue of Animal Behaviour have a couple of interesting examples.

Some experiments with leafcutter ants showed that they recognize leaves that are distasteful to the individuals enslaved on their fungal farms (1).  The experiments involved offering choices in the laboratory for leaves and odors of good or bad leaves to the foraging ants. The ants avoided anything that they had learned had a smell indicating unsuitability. However, they were much more positive about things if they were allowed to fondle the leaf parts. So they are a little more wily than we might think.

The second paper deals with the dating problems of snails in the mangrove swamps (2). The first problem that the snails have is a very complicated three-dimensional habitat to work in. Their second problem is that the population density is low and of course they don’t have the luxury of things like the internet (or do they?)

In the mating season in the mangroves, a male snail will show great diligence in following female snail trails. Outside the mating season they are much more blasé and wander casually along, but once in the mating season, there is a sense of urgency and our molluscular friends are almost galloping along the trails deep in the mangroves. Indeed, time and tide wait for no gastropod!

  1. N.Saverschek and F.Roces, Anim. Behav., 82, 453, (2011).
  2. T.P.T.Ng, M.S.Davis, R.Stafford, and G.A.Williams, Anim. Behav., 82, 459, (2011).

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