Ontogeny looks at the developmental changes in an organism’s behavior. While it may seem initially odd to think of ants learning throughout there their lifetime, there have been multiple studies showing that ants adapt their behaviors to changes in their environment.


Plant avoidance:

Leafcutter ants show preferences towards certain types of plant matter based on its ability to encourage growth within their fungal garden (Saverschk & Roces 2012). While the workers who are cutting the leaves may not realize a leaf is unsuitable for fungal growth, once the unsuitable foliage proves to have a negative impact on the fungus, the ants will rapidly began to reject that plant matter. And, once that rejection is established it takes three weeks of no other plant sources for the ants to be willing to attempt to use it as a substrate for there fungal garden again. The persistence of these plant avoidance behaviors suggests that the ants change in foraging behavior is not just a temporary reaction to a negative stimulus, but instead a learned stimulus with long term ramifications on plant foraging (Herz et al. 2008). Leafcutters have even been shown to start avoiding plants previously preferred, that were later found to be unsuitable for fungus cultivation (Saverschk & Roces 2012). This suggests that, while there may be initial innate plant preferences, ant's ultimate preferences change based on the plants success at growing the fungus.

This graph, made by Herz et al., shows the persistence of plant avoidance within leafcutters over a nine week stretch of time. The black dots are in the negatively treated condition, while the white dots are control condition, and untreated.