Abstract 1. Field investigation of the association between sponge gourd, Luffa cylindrica plants and its ant visitors revealed that five of the six most frequent species: Camponotus compressus, C. paria, Pheidole sp., Pachycondyla tesserinoda and Tetramorium sp. mainly visited the extrafloral (EF) nectaries present on the leaves, bracts, bracteoles and calyx of the plant. Tapinoma melanocephalum was the only ant species observed at the floral as well as the EF nectaries.
2. A bioassay of ant behaviour revealed aversion to young and mature unisexual flowers of sponge gourd in the five predominantly EF nectary-visiting ant species, while floral preference was demonstrated in T. melanocephalum. A significant difference was not found in the number of insect pollinators visiting T. melanocephalum occupied and un-occupied flowers, suggesting the absence of deterrent effect of this tiny ant species on the pollinators.
3. Further behavioural assays showed preference for 2- and 4-day-old leaves and also 2-day-old buds, while the 4-day-old buds induced avoidance in all the species. Androecium and gynoecium had significantly higher repellent effects in comparison to the petals. Thus floral repellents, probably help to reduce nectar theft and prevent loss of pollen function.
4. This aversion was not demonstrated in the case of old flowers. A significantly greater number of insect pollinators visited young and mature flowers compared with old flowers, suggesting that selective exclusion of medium- and large-sized EF nectary-visiting ant species from the flowers, as a result of aversion to floral repellents, serves to avoid the threat of attack to insect pollinators of sponge gourd.