The first complete map of the ants' olfactory system has discovered that the eusocial insects have four to fives more odorant receptors—the special proteins that detect different odors—than other insects.
Ants have four to five times more odor receptors than most other insects, a team of researchers have discovered. The research team, led by Lawrence Zwiebel at Vanderbilt, recently completed the first full map of olfactory system that provides ants with their sense of taste and smell. They found the industrious insects have genes that make about 400 distinct odorant receptors, special proteins that detect different odors. By comparison, silk moths have 52, fruit flies have 61, mosquitoes range from 74 to 158 and honeybees have 174.
"The most exciting moment for me was when the analysis came back showing that we had identified more than 400 OR genes, the largest number of any known insect species," said Xiaofan Zhou, the research associate who headed up the characterization process. "It meant that we had successfully taken the first step toward gaining a new level of understanding of the complex social system that has made ants one of the most successful families on the planet."