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Abstract

A dulotic colony of the obligatory slave-making ant Polyergus rufescens was monitored daily in the field (Parma, Italy) from 1100–2000 h over the summers of 1991 and 1992. The first P. rufescens workers to emerge from the nest each day were individually marked and their activity was accurately recorded. The path of 47 such individuals (21 over a complete trip) was followed in detail and mapped. Results confirm a clear scouting activity: the route of these workers away from the nest is generally tortuous and time consuming and is followed by a return trip along a different and straighter path. Observations also showed that these scouts recruit nestmates and lead raiding columns towards target nests, confirming their important role in the organization of slave raids. The similarity between routes taken by scouts and raiders during outbound trips indicates the close connection between scouting and raiding activity, which was also recorded in detail since 40 raids were observed. Some experiments analysing the orientation behaviour of inbound columns showed that raiders use a chemical trail (deposited during the outbound run) to lead them back home. The hypothesis of a multiple strategy for the location of host colonies operated by this slave-making species is also discussed.