How do ants communicate with one another?

Picture of red ants.

Ant Communication

How do ants, known for their organized activity, communicate with one another?

It is by releasing chemicals, says Edward O. Wilson, regarded as the world’s foremost authority on ants.

His discovery came after thirty-five years of studying the ants’ activity throughout the world.

He says:

“Ants have between 10 and 20 chemicals in different glands in their bodies which they release to signal alarm, recruit workers to a food site, attack an enemy or to tell them to assemble in certain spots—any of about 50 standard behavior patterns. They have an extraordinary ability to sense chemicals.”

Ants recognize dead ants, he discovered, by oleic acid—which is released as the dead ant starts to decompose.

In experimentation they dropped a spot of oleic acid on a live ant.

The other ants carted him out, “squirming and kicking,” to the cemetery outside the nest—and kept doing so no matter how many times he came marching back.

But, says Wilson, “we’ve only begun to understand ants’ complex mode of communication.”