How Good Can Ants Smell?

Using pheromones, which are chemical signals, ants communicate with one another and keep a colony functioning. They can also use pheromones to send signals to their colony mates and even send an alarm when they sense danger.

An ant’s sense of smell is highly developed. They have four to five times more odor receptors than most other insects. These receptors are specialized to pick up different odors. Some are ionotropic, which means they’re tuned to certain poisonous compounds. Others are gustatory, which distinguishes between different tastes.

The olfactory system of most insects is located in their antennae. It’s composed of three classes of receptors: ionotropic glutamate receptors, gustatory receptors, and odorant receptors. Besides their odor sense, ants also have a taste sense.

Scientists have found that ants can detect cancerous cells. In a study, French researchers trained Formica fusca ants to identify cancerous cells from healthy ones. The ants were rewarded for correctly identifying the cancerous cell. They were also able to identify a chemical odor that was associated with the reward.

Researchers used electrodes stuck in sensory hairs on the antennae to determine whether the ant recognized the scent. If the ant did, the chemical odor was moved to a different location in the dish. They then tested the ants’ reaction to 15 different odors. They found that ants were most attracted to the scent of linoleic acid. The odor of linoleic acid is known as a necromone among biologists.