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Trophallaxis in Asian-Australian weaver ant O. smaragdina, Thailand.
Trophallaxis in Camponotus sp.

Trophallaxis /ˌtrfəlˈæksɪs/ is the transfer of food or other fluids among members of a community through mouth-to-mouth (stomodeal) or anus-to-mouth (proctodeal) feeding. It is most highly developed in social insects such as ants, termites, wasps and bees. The word was introduced by the entomologist William Morton Wheeler in 1918.[1] The behaviour was used in the past to support theories on the origin of sociality in insects.[2] The Swiss psychologist and entomologist August Forel also believed that food sharing was key to ant society and he used an illustration of it as the frontispiece for his book The Social World of the Ants Compared with that of Man.[3]

In ants such as the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) individual colony members store food in their crops and regularly exchange it with other colony members and larvae to form a sort of "communal stomach" for the colony. This is also true for certain species of Lasioglossum, such as the sweat bee Lasioglossum hemichalceum. Interestingly, L. hemichalceum will often exchange food with other members regardless of whether or not they are nestmates or not.[4] In termites and cockroaches,[5] proctodeal trophallaxis is crucial for replacing the gut endosymbionts that are lost after every molt. This should not be confused with coprophagia.

Many wasps, like Protopolybia exigua and Belonogaster petiolata, exhibit foraging behavior where adults perform trophallaxis with adults and between adults and larvae.[6][7] This is also true for some bees such as Xylocopa pubescens. In X. pubescens, trophallaxis has led to the guarding behavior that the species is known for.

In addition, Vespula austriaca wasps also engage in trophallaxis with its host workers to obtain nutrients.[8]

Vertebrates such as some bird species, gray wolves, and vampire bats also feed their young through trophallaxis.

Trophallaxis serves as a means of communication, at least in bees, like M. genalis, and ants.[9][10] In some species of ants, it may play a role in spreading the colony odour that identifies members.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wheeler, W. M. (1918). "A study of some ant larvae with a consideration of the origin and meaning of social habits among insects". Proc. Am. Philos. Soc. 57 (4): 293–343. JSTOR 983940. 
  2. ^ Roubaud, E. (1916). "Recherches biologiques sur les guepes solitaires et sociales d'Afrique. La genese de la vie sociale et l'evolution de l'instinct maternel chez les vespides". Ann Sci Nat (in French) 1: 1–160. 
  3. ^ Sleigh, Charlotte (2002). "Brave new worlds: Trophallaxis and the origin of society in the early twentieth century". Journal of History of the Behavioral Sciences 38 (2): 133–156. doi:10.1002/jhbs.10033. 
  4. ^ Kukuk, P. F.; Sage, G. K. (1994-12-01). "Reproductivity and relatedness in a communal halictine beeLasioglossum (Chilalictus) hemichalceum". Insectes Sociaux 41 (4): 443–455. doi:10.1007/BF01240647. ISSN 0020-1812. 
  5. ^ Kitade, Osamu (2004). "Comparison of Symbiotic Flagellate Faunae between Termites and a Wood-Feeding Cockroach of the Genus Cryptocercus". Microbes and Environments 19 (3): 215–220. doi:10.1264/jsme2.19.215. 
  6. ^ Rocha, AA, and Carlos Costa Bichara Filho. "Resources Taken to the Nest by Protopolybia Exigua (Hymenoptera, Vespidae) in Different Phases of the Colony Cycle, in a Region of the Medio Sao Fransisco River, Bahia, Brazil."Sociobiology54.2 (2009): 439–56. Print.
  7. ^ Keeping, Malcolm G. "Social Behavior and Brood Decline in Reproductive-phase Colonies Of Belonogaster Petiolata(Degeer) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)." Journal of Insect Behavior 10.2 (1997): 265–78. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
  8. ^ Reed, H.C.; Akre, R.D. (1983). "Colony behavior of the obligate social Vespula austriaca (Panzer) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)". Insectes Sociaux 30 (3): 259–273. doi:10.1007/bf02223984. 
  9. ^ Wcislo, W. T.; Gonzalez, V. H. (2006-05-01). "Social and ecological contexts of trophallaxis in facultatively social sweat bees, Megalopta genalis and M. ecuadoria (Hymenoptera, Halictidae)". Insectes Sociaux 53 (2): 220–225. doi:10.1007/s00040-005-0861-6. ISSN 0020-1812. 
  10. ^ a b Dahbi, A.; Hefetz, A.; Cerda, X.; Lenoir, A. (1999). "Trophallaxis mediates uniformity of colony odor in Cataglyphis iberica ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)". Journal of Insect Behavior 12 (4): 559–567. doi:10.1023/A:1020975009450.