Peripheral sensory organs vary among ant workers but variation does not predict division of labor

Nicole Leitner, Daniel Charbonneau, Wulfila Gronenberg, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The neural mechanisms underlying behavioral variation among individuals are not well understood. Differences among individuals in sensory sensitivity could limit the environmental stimuli to which an individual is capable of responding and have, indeed, been shown to relate to behavioral differences in different species. Here, we show that ant workers in Temnothorax rugatulus differ considerably in the number of antennal sensory structures, or sensilla (by 45% in density and over 100% in estimated total number). A larger quantity of sensilla may reflect a larger quantity of underlying sensory neurons. This would increase the probability that a given set of neurons in the antenna detects an environmental stimulus and becomes excited, thereby eliciting the expression of a behavior downstream at lower stimulus levels than an individual with comparatively fewer sensilla. Individual differences in antennal sensilla density, however, did not predict worker activity level or performance of any task, suggesting either that variation in sensilla density does not, in fact, reflect variation in sensory sensitivity or that individual sensory response thresholds to task-associated stimuli do not determine task allocation as is commonly assumed, at least in this social insect. More broadly, our finding that even closely related individuals can differ strongly in peripheral sensory organ elaboration suggests that such variation in sensory organs could underlie other cases of intraspecific behavioral variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-143
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Processes
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Behavioral variation
  • Response thresholds
  • Sensilla
  • Social insects
  • Task allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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