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The Foraging Behaviour of the Ant, Formica Fusca

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1) The foraging pattern is a repeated emergence to feed, followed by a return to the nest to distribute food. This pattern varies depending on whether the forager is from a satiated, intermediate or hungry nest. Foragers from hungry nests emerge to feed more often and successive periods in the nest-cell tend to be relatively short. Many foragers from satiated nests do not emerge to feed a second time. Successive feeds on successive foraging trips tend to become shorter. On the initial feed, the forager feeds longer the longer its nest has been deprived of food. Feeding on later foraging trips is very much affected by the amount of regurgitation which occurs in the preceding period in the nest. 2) The way in which foragers distribute food is described. Factors influencing the kind of food-sharing behaviour shown are discussed. Food-sharing includes regurgitation, various types of palpation, offering and acceptor responses. The last may be shown shortly before leaving on another foraging trip. It is clear that the readiness with which the nest-mates accept food is an important factor in controlling the forager's behaviour. 3) Cleaning responses are shown relatively frequently by foragers. There is evidence that a strong tendency to regurgitate inhibits cleaning. Principally it lowers bout length of cleaning. Cleaning is also shown on entering the nest by some ants and after an incomplete foraging movement. It seems likely that these represent situations where conflicting tendencies inhibit each other. In the resulting hiatus cleaning is often shown. The inactivation of other tendencies appears to allow expression of the tendency to clean. 4) Recruitment of foragers is related to the feeding behaviour of nest-mates. Potential recruited ants feed more from returned primary foragers than do non-foragers. They are more active than non-foragers. Over 90% of recruited ants feed from a returned primary forager before they leave to forage, so that this feeding is one of the important stimuli for recruitment. 5) More ants are recruited from hungry than from satiated nests. Thus, recruitment varies with the degree of food deprivation. Most recruitment occurs in the first 9 minutes after the forager's return. 6) Food is distributed along a chain of ants: primary forager → acceptor → another nest-mate, etc., resulting in rapid distribution of food through the colony. 7) Analysis of the behaviour of recruited foragers shows they behave more like primary foragers from satiated nests than primary foragers from their own nests. 8) An attempt is made to synthesize the results into a more comprehensive picture of the foraging pattern. A schematized diagram is presented and suggestions are made as to the factors controlling the length of a period in the nest-cell. The mechanism of recruitment is discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Sub-Dept. of Entomology, University of Cambridge


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