Regulation of diet in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta.
In social insects, colony nutrition depends upon the volume and quality of food distributed, ingested, and assimilated by its members. The ability of Solenopsis invicta workers and larvae to regulate the volume of food ingested individually has been well documented. In this paper, the ability of fire ant workers and larvae to regulate the quality and type of food ingested is demonstrated. Larvae displayed independent appetites for solid protein, amino acid solution, and sucrose solution. When larvae that had fed on one food type were switched to another, they fed on the second food type at rates characteristic of that food type, not of the volume of food previously ingested. Larvae preferred concentrated sucrose and amino acids solutions over dilute solutions. Larval "fullness" was thus a relative property, depending upon the nature of food as well as the volume ingested. The number of workers recruiting to food sites also depended upon food concentration and food type. Workers preferred sucrose to amino acids, concentrated to dilute solutions, and novel to accustomed food. The absence of protein in the worker diet rather than the presence of larvae caused workers to switch their preference from sugar to amino acids solutions. When the colony was offered sucrose and amino acids solutions simultaneously, individual workers ingested from one or the other site, but not both. Little mixing of crop contents occurred when workers solicited from one another inside the nest. Workers tended to regurgitate to larvae after ingesting amino acids and to other workers after ingesting sucrose. The mechanism regulating the distribution of protein pellets, which workers do not ingest, among larvae is unknown. In summary, colony nutrition was regulated by a chain of demand. Forager hunger determined the rate at which food flowed from the environment into the nest. Larval hunger and nest-worker hunger determined the rate and direction in which food moved within the nest.
Cassill, D.L. & Tschinkel, W.R. (1999). Regulation of diet in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Behavior, 12, 307-328.
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