Social insects are increasingly frequently used as experimental subjects by researchers investigating such questions as neurobiological mechanisms underlying learning and memory processes, alcohol and drug addiction and various types of aggression, ageing processes and their reversal, and other forms of phenotypic plasticity. Behavioral methods used in that research are surprisingly rich and sophisticated. I will describe various manipulations of social context known as techniques of social engineering (mostly various forms of partial or complete social deprivation and other modifications of social group size and structure) and their consequences (in particular, expression and/or suppression of specific behavior patterns, and acceleration, retardation or reversion of individual development). I will also discuss some classical and new methods of administration of neuroactive compounds and a wide array of bioassays used to study responses of social insects to unanimate objects, and their aggressive and nonaggressive interactions with conspecific and allospecific individuals. I will also provide some examples showing how these techniques can be used in innovative interdisciplinary research.
Laboratory of Ethology, Department of Neurophysiology, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland