• Ants;
  • caste specialization;
  • division of labour;
  • electroantennogram;
  • odourants;
  • olfaction

Abstract The relationship between scent composition and antennal sensitivity in different castes of Atta mexicana is investigated under laboratory conditions. Extracts of dead ants are analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify the compounds presumably responsible for the specific undertaking behaviour. Oleic acid is identified as one compound that triggers undertaking behaviour. To determine differences in odour reception between workers of different castes (i.e. foragers, undertakers and soldiers), further antennal sensitivity to task-related odours is tested using electroantennographic techniques. Soldiers are the most specialized caste because of their low response to all odours, except odourants related to alarm pheromones. The behavioural specialization of soldiers and their reduced behavioural repertoire are discussed.