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Interaction between Ants on a Scent Trail


IT is well known that many ants lay scent trails on the ground which can be followed by other ants1–3. When an ant is following such a trail it is guided primarily by the scent ‘marks’, although other orientating factors, including visual stimuli, are sometimes also involved2,4. Carthy3 has suggested that another factor contributing to the dense trails formed by Acanthomyops fuliginosus workers might be a tendency for workers to seek maximal contact with their companions. During a study of the trail systems of the ant Monomorium pharaonis 4 it was possible to record the behaviour of successive workers arriving at a branch in the trail system, and to relate this to the behaviour of the preceding ant. At such a branch each ant took either branch A or branch B, and if the proportion of all ants which took branch A was p, the proportion which took B would be (1–p). If there were no relation between the ‘choice’ of one ant and that of the following ant the expected proportions of pairs of successive ants taking respectively A and A, A and B, B and A and B and B would be p 2, p(1–p), p(1–p) and (1–p)2. Table 1 shows that the observed proportions conform very closely with these figures and do not differ from them significantly in a χ2 test (χ2= 2.02 with 3 degrees of freedom, P > 50 per cent).


  1. 1

    Forel, A., “The Senses of Insects” (Methuen, 1908).

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  2. 2

    Goetsch, W., Z. Morph. Oekol. Tiere, 28, 319 (1934).

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  3. 3

    Carthy, J. D., Trans. Ninth Int. Congress Entomology, 1, 365 (1952).

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  4. 4

    Sudd, J. H. (unpublished work).

  5. 5

    Hingston, R. W. G., “Problems of Instinct and Intelligence” (Arnold, 1928).

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SUDD, J. Interaction between Ants on a Scent Trail. Nature 183, 1588 (1959).

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