Cuticular hydrocarbons mediate discrimination of reproductives and nonreproductives in the ant Myrmecia gulosa

Vincent Dietemann, Christian Peeters, Jürgen Liebig, Virginie Thivet, Bert Hölldobler

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In many species of social insects, the cuticular hydrocarbons of adults vary with both colony identity and individual physiology (oogenesis). Such variations have been shown in some ants and social wasps to function in nestmate recognition, but as yet there is no demonstration of their use by workers to recognize egg layers. We report that in the ant Myrmecia gulosa, workers can discriminate queens and fertile workers from infertile individuals based on distinctive blends of long-chained hydrocarbons present both on the cuticle and in the postpharyngeal gland. The purified hydrocarbon fraction of cuticular extracts from queens elicited high interest in workers, unlike the nonhydrocarbon fraction. However, both fractions were necessary to trigger a response of maximal intensity. In contrast, extracts of mandibular and Dufour glands from queens or infertile workers were not treated differentially by workers. We suggest that cuticular hydrocarbons function as pheromones allowing for recognition of the queen as well as egg-laying workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10341-10346
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2 2003
Externally publishedYes


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