Differential sharing of chemical cues by social parasites versus social mutualists in a three-species symbiosis.
Chemical recognition systems are crucial for maintaining the unity of social insect colonies. It has been proposed that colonies form a common chemical signature, called the gestalt odor, which is used to distinguish colony members and non-members. This chemical integration is achieved actively through social interactions such as trophallaxis and allogrooming, or passively such as through exposure to common nest material. When colonies are infiltrated by social parasites, the intruders often use some form of chemical mimicry. However, it is not always clear how this chemical mimicry is accomplished. Here, we used a three-species nesting symbiosis to test the differences in chemical integration of mutualistic (parabiotic) and parasitic ant species. We found that the parasite (Solenopsis picea) obtains chemical cues from both of the two parabiotic host ant species. However, the two parabiotic species (Crematogaster levior and Camponotus femoratus) maintain species-specific cues, and do not acquire compounds from the other species. Our findings suggest that there is a fundamental difference in how social mutualists and social parasites use chemicals to integrate themselves into colonies.