Hydrocarbon profiles indicate fertility and dominance status in ant, bee, and wasp colonies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

105 Scopus citations


The social organization of insect colonies indicates the importance of information that is usually not needed in solitary insects. Information about the presence and fertility of a queen strongly affects worker behavior and colony organization. Reproductive competition in colonies requires the correct assessment of each others' rank. All of this information about fertility status and/or dominance status can be encoded in the cuticular hydrocarbon profile of members of ant, wasp, and bee colonies. Understanding variations in these hydrocarbon profiles, their composition, and relation to fertility is key to the further understanding of the major property of eusocial insects, reproductive division of labor. Cuticular hydrocarbons are part of the lipid layer of the insect cuticle that protects from desiccation (Lockey, 1988) and are thus present in basically every social insect (see Chapter 6). Insects have the sensory apparatus to detect these profiles. So it is not surprising that they utilize variations in hydrocarbon profiles between individuals within and between species to detect various properties in other individuals, such as species identity, gender, colony membership (Howard and Blomquist, 1982, 2005; and various chapters in Part II of this book). In this chapter I will review the evidence indicating that hydrocarbon profiles are also used in colonies of ants, bees, and wasps for the regulation of reproduction. I will especially focus on patterns of variation in hydrocarbon profiles on the cuticle and the eggs in relation to fertility differences, which has not been done in such detail in previous reviews (Heinze, 2004; Monnin, 2006; Hefetz, 2007; Le Conte and Hefetz, 2008; Peeters and Liebig, 2009).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInsect Hydrocarbons Biology, Biochemistry, and Chemical Ecology
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780511711909
ISBN (Print)9780521898140
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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