Animals principally forage to try to maximize energy intake per unit of feeding time, developing different foraging strategies. Temperature effects on foraging have been observed in diverse ant species; these effects are limited to the duration of foraging or the number of foragers involved. The harvester ant Messor barbarus L. 1767 has a specialized foraging strategy that consists in the formation of worker trails. Because of the high permeability of their body integument, we presume that the length, shape, and type of foraging trails of M. barbarus must be affected by temperature conditions. From mid-June to mid-August 1999, we tested the effect on these trail characteristics in a Mediterranean forest. We found that thermal stress force ants to use a foraging pattern based on the variation of the workers trail structure. Ants exploit earlier well-known sources using long physical trails, but as temperatures increases throughout the morning, foragers reduce the length of the foraging column gradually, looking for alternative food sources in nonphysical trails. This study shows that animal forage can be highly adaptable and versatile in environments with high daily variations.
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