I know that ants communicate with pheromones but I am wondering if these pheromones can indicate in which direction to go. For example the ants leave pheromones to indicate a food source and when they find food they eventually create a "highway" of ants running to the food.

If I disturb the ants while they're going to the food source in such way that they don't know anymore in which direction is the food will they choose a direction randomly (nest or food) or will the pheromones also indicate in which way to go to get the food?

  • $\begingroup$ I think the ants usually start at the nest and they know which way is away from the nest. $\endgroup$ – shigeta Feb 22 '13 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ I guess they know where they're going depending if they have collected food or not, that's why I specified "If I disturb the ants...". For example if I blow air on them so that they fly away 15-20cm so that they are close enough to the pheromone trail to get back on it right way but since they flew in the air they have no idea about the orientation they're looking compared to before I blew on them. $\endgroup$ – rold2007 Feb 22 '13 at 9:12

@shigeta is correct. Trail disruption is actually a method of controlling ant populations.

For an example, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20077128

  • $\begingroup$ I have ants in my kitchen and this is a reproducible result :) $\endgroup$ – shigeta Feb 22 '13 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Great ! Now I have to apply this in my house... $\endgroup$ – rold2007 Feb 22 '13 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Pheromone sensing in ants is pretty cool. The results from this paper indicate another way of potentially controlling ant populations on a larger scale (similar to introducing sterile insects): cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(12)00523-5?switch=standard $\endgroup$ – blep Feb 23 '13 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, that sort of control is far off, and what the paper really shows are the channels mediating pheromone detection and somehow, courtship behavior, in fruit flies. Also, look up "male-male chaining in Drosophila" on YouTube. $\endgroup$ – blep Feb 23 '13 at 16:24

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