Eye size and behaviour of day- and night-flying leafcutting ant alates


* All correspondence to: J. D. Reeve. E-mail: jreeve@zoology.siu.edu


The morphology of insect eyes often seems to be shaped by evolution to match their behaviour and lifestyle. Here the relationship between the nuptial flight behaviour of 10 Atta species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and the eye size of male and female alates, including the compound eyes, ommatidia facets, and ocelli were examined. These species can be divided into two distinct groups by nuptial flight behaviour: those that initiate the nuptial flight during the day and those that initiate it at night. The most striking difference between day- vs night-flying alates was in ocellus area, which was almost 50% larger in night-flying species. Night-flying species also had significantly larger ommatidia facets than day-flying species. A scaling relationship was also found between compound eye area, facet diameter, and ocellus area vs overall body size. Detailed observations are also presented on the nuptial flight behaviour of a night- vs day-flying species, A. texana and A. sexdens, respectively. The pattern in A. texana is for a single large and precisely timed nuptial flight before dawn, while flights of A. sexdens last for several hours, beginning at midday. Further observations suggest that the timing of the nuptial flight in A. texana is easily disrupted by light pollution.