The Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is recognized as one of the worlds most damaging invasive species. One reason for the ecological dominance of introduced Argentine ant populations is their ability to dominate food and habitat resources through the rapid mobilization and recruitment of thousands of workers. More than 30 years ago, studies showed that (Z)-9-hexadecenal strongly attracted Argentine ant workers in a multi-choice olfactometer, suggesting that (Z)-9-hexadecenal might be the trail pheromone, or a component of a trail pheromone mixture. Since then, numerous studies have considered (Z)-9-hexadecenal as the key component of the Argentine ant trails. Here, we report the first chemical analyses of the trails laid by living Argentine ants and find that (Z)-9-hexadecenal is not present in a detectible quantity. Instead, two iridoids, dolichodial and iridomyrmecin, appear to be the primary chemical constituents of the trails. Laboratory choice tests confirmed that Argentine ants were attracted to artificial trails comprised of these two chemicals significantly more often than control trails. Although (Z)-9-hexadecenal was not detected in natural trails, supplementation of artificial dolichodial+iridomyrmecin trails with an extremely low concentraion of (Z)-9-hexadecenal did increase the efficacy of the trail-following behavior. In stark contrast with previous dogma, our study suggests that dolichodial and iridomyrmecin are major components of the Argentine ant trail pheromone. (Z)-9-hexadecenal may act in an additive manner with these iridoids, but it does not occur in detectable quantities in Argentine ant recruitment trails.
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