Queens in social insect colonies advertise their presence in the colony to: a) attract workers' attention and care; b) gain acceptance by workers as replacement or supplemental reproductives; c) prevent reproductive development in nestmates. We analyzed the chemical content of whole body surface extracts of adult queens of different developmental and reproductive stages, and of adult workers from monogyne (single colony queen) and polygyne (multiple colony queens) forms of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. We found that the composition of the most abundant components, venom alkaloids, differed between queens and workers, as well as between reproductive and non-reproductive queens. Additionally, workers of the two forms could be distinguished by alkaloid composition. Finally, sexually mature, non-reproductive queens from polygyne colonies differed in their proportions of cis-piperidine alkaloids, depending on their Gp-9 genotype, although the difference disappeared once they became functional reproductives. Among the unsaturated cuticular hydrocarbons characteristic of queens, there were differences in amounts of alkenes/alkadienes between non-reproductive polygyne queens of different Gp-9 genotypes, between non-reproductive and reproductive queens, and between polygyne and monogyne reproductive queens, with the amounts increasing at a relatively higher rate through reproductive ontogeny in queens bearing the Gp-9 b allele. Given that the genotype-specific piperidine differences reflect differences in rates of reproductive maturation between queens, we speculate that these abundant and unique compounds have been co-opted to serve in fertility signaling, while the cuticular hydrocarbons now play a complementary role in regulation of social organization by signaling queen Gp-9 genotype.
- Cuticular hydrocarbons
- Fertility signal
- Queen pheromone
- Reproductive division of labor
- Venom alkaloids
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics