Caffeine experiment poses new strategies for ant control


June 17, 2024

Recent research reveals that doses of caffeine can influence and enhance ants’ behavior, leading to faster foraging efficiency.

Like humans, caffeine influences behavior and physiology in animals and even helps to improve cognitive functions, like memory and learning, in bees.

Photo: UCLA/Dr. Noa Pinter-Wollman

Photo: UCLA/Dr. Noa Pinter-Wollman

Inspired by caffeine-related findings, Dr. Henrique Galante, a computational biologist at the University of Regensburg, investigated the effects of caffeine on the notoriously invasive and meddlesome Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). Galante hoped his findings could potentially uncover new methods for managing the species.

In his experiment, Dr. Galante used a LEGO drawbridge and tasked the ants to navigate a testing platform in order to reach a sugary reward, conveniently laced with varying levels of caffeine.

With the assistance of an automated tracking system, researchers paid attention to the ants’ speed, path directness and foraging time.

This video shows how an ant was tracked. Credit: Henrique Galante

The researchers found ants given low to intermediate doses of caffeine (25 and 250 parts per million) became more efficient in their tasks. However, while the ants didn’t move faster, they instead took more direct paths, implying the ants are more focused on where they’re going when they ingest caffeine.

With the caffeine, ants reduced their time spent foraging by 28 percent with low caffeine levels and 38 percent with high caffeine levels.

Photo: Heather Broccard-Bell/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Tramp ants, such as this Argentine ant, are invasive species capable of forming large colonies. (Photo: Heather Broccard-Bell/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

The discovery, the research team said, has potential to revolutionize pest control by limiting the time its takes for the ants to find the bait and lay pheromone trails as they go and come back. Hence, the ants will spread the pesticide into the colony before realizing it’s effects.

Currently, researchers are conducting field tests in Spain to analyze the effectiveness of caffeine-laced bait in natural settings. Further, they are investigating the relationship and interactions between caffeine and the bait active ingredient in order to assess the real-world possibilities of their findings.

Looking ahead, the research concludes pest control professionals could potentially mold insect behavior by incorporating caffeine into strategies.


About the Author

Julia was an intern at North Coast Media, PMP's parent company, during summer 2024 where she contributed as a writer. Julia studies Multimedia Journalism and Political Science at Loyola University Chicago.

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