Pheromone trail decay rates on different substrates in the Pharaoh's ant, Monomorium pharaonis


Raphaël Jeanson, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 Route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse Cédex 4, France. Tel: +33 561 556232; fax: +33 561 556154; e-mail:


Abstract.  Many ants use pheromone trails to organize collective foraging. This study investigated the rate at which a well-established Pharaoh's ant, Monomorium pharaonis (L.), trail breaks down on two substrates (polycarbonate plastic, newspaper). Workers were allowed to feed on sucrose solution from a feeder 30 cm from the nest. Between the nest and the feeder, the trail had a Y-shaped bifurcation. Initially, while recruiting to and exploiting the feeder, workers could only deposit pheromone on the branch leading to the feeder. Once the trail was established (by approximately 60 ants per min for 20 min), the ants were not allowed to reinforce the trail and were given a choice between the marked and unmarked branches. The numbers of ants choosing each branch were counted for 30 min. Initially, most went to the side on which pheromone had been deposited (80% and 70% on the plastic and paper substrates, respectively). However, this decayed to 50% within 25 min for plastic and 8 min for paper. From these data, the half-life times of the pheromone are estimated as approximately 9 min and 3 min on plastic and paper, respectively. The results show that, for M. pharaonis, trail decay is rapid and is affected strongly by trail substrate.