Mating has profound effects on the physiology and behavior of female insects, and in honey bee (Apis mellifera) queens, these changes are permanent. Queens mate with multiple males during a brief period in their early adult lives, and shortly thereafter they initiate egg-laying. Furthermore, the pheromone profiles of mated queens differ from those of virgins, and these pheromones regulate many different aspects of worker behavior and colony organization. While it is clear that mating causes dramatic changes in queens, it is unclear if mating number has more subtle effects on queen physiology or queen-worker interactions; indeed, the effect of multiple matings on female insect physiology has not been broadly addressed. Because it is not possible to control the natural mating behavior of queens, we used instrumental insemination and compared queens inseminated with semen from either a single drone (single-drone inseminated, or SDI) or 10 drones (multi-drone inseminated, or MDI). We used observation hives to monitor attraction of workers to SDI or MDI queens in colonies, and cage studies to monitor the attraction of workers to virgin, SDI, and MDI queen mandibular gland extracts (the main source of queen pheromone). The chemical profiles of the mandibular glands of virgin, SDI, and MDI queens were characterized using GC-MS. Finally, we measured brain expression levels in SDI and MDI queens of a gene associated with phototaxis in worker honey bees (Amfor). Here, we demonstrate for the first time that insemination quantity significantly affects mandibular gland chemical profiles, queen-worker interactions, and brain gene expression. Further research will be necessary to elucidate the mechanistic bases for these effects: insemination volume, sperm and seminal protein quantity, and genetic diversity of the sperm may all be important factors contributing to this profound change in honey bee queen physiology, queen behavior, and social interactions in the colony.
Worker sterility in honeybees is neither absolute nor irreversible. Whether under queen or worker control, it is likely to be mediated by pheromones. Queen-specific pheromones are not exclusive to queens; workers with activated ovaries also produce them. The association between ovarian activation and queen-like pheromone occurrence suggests the latter as providing a reliable signal of reproductive ability. In this study we investigated the effect of queen pheromones on ovary development and occurrence of queen-like esters in workers' Dufour's gland. Workers separated from the queenright compartment by a double mesh behaved like queenless workers, activating their ovaries and expressing a queen-like Dufour's gland secretion, confirming that the pheromones regulating both systems are non-volatile. Workers with developed ovaries produced significantly more secretion than sterile workers, which we attribute primarily to increased ester production. Workers separated from the queenright compartment by a single mesh displayed a delayed ovarian development, which we attribute to interrupted transfer of the non-volatile pheromone between compartments. We suggest that worker expression of queen-like characters reflects a queen-worker arms race; and that Dufour's gland secretion may provide a reliable signal for ovarian activation. The associative nature between ovary development and Dufour's gland ester production remains elusive.
Mating is fundamental to most organisms, although the physiological and transcriptional changes associated with this process have been largely characterized only in Drosophila. In this study, we use honey bees as a model system since their queens undergo massive and permanent physiological and behavioral changes following mating. Previous studies have identified changes associated with the transition from a virgin queen to a fully-mated, egg-laying queen. Here, we further uncouple the mating process to examine the effects of natural mating vs. instrumental insemination and saline vs. semen insemination. We observed effects on flight behavior, vitellogenin expression, and significant overlap in transcriptional profiles between our study and analogous studies in Drosophila, suggesting that some post-mating mechanisms are conserved across insect orders.
Microsatellite genotyping of workers from 13 species (ten genera) of stingless bees shows that genetic relatedness is very high. Workers are usually daughters of a single, singly mated queen. This observation, coupled with the multiple mating of honeybee queens, permits kin selection theory to account for many differences in the social biology of the two taxa. First, in contrast to honeybees, where workers are predicted to and do police each other's male production, stingless bee workers are predicted to compete directly with the queen for rights to produce males. This leads to behavioural and reproductive conflict during oviposition. Second, the risk that a daughter queen will attack the mother queen is higher in honeybees, as is the cost of such an attack to workers. This explains why stingless bees commonly have virgin queens in the nest, but honeybees do not. It also explains why in honeybees the mother queen leaves to found a new nest, while in stingless bees it is the daughter queen who leaves.
The molecular mechanisms underlying the post-mating behavioral and physiological transitions undergone by females have not been explored in great detail. Honey bees represent an excellent model system in which to address these questions because they exhibit a range of "mating states," with two extremes (virgins and egg-laying, mated queens) that differ dramatically in their behavior, pheromone profiles, and physiology. We used an incompletely-mated mating-state to understand the molecular processes that underlie the transition from a virgin to a mated, egg-laying queen. We used same-aged virgins, queens that mated once but did not initiate egg-laying, and queens that mated once and initiated egg-laying.
Differences in the behavior and physiology among groups correlated with the underlying variance observed in the top 50 predictive genes in the brains and the ovaries. These changes were correlated with either a behaviorally-associated pattern or a physiologically-associated pattern. Overall, these results suggest that the brains and the ovaries of queens are uncoupled or follow different timescales; the initiation of mating triggers immediate changes in the ovaries, while changes in the brain may require additional stimuli or take a longer time to complete. Comparison of our results to previous studies of post-mating changes in Drosophila melanogaster identified common biological processes affected by mating, including stress response and alternative-splicing pathways. Comparison with microarray data sets related to worker behavior revealed no obvious correlation between genes regulated by mating and genes regulated by behavior/physiology in workers.
Studying the underlying molecular mechanisms of post-mating changes in honey bee queens will not only give us insight into how molecular mechanisms regulate physiological and behavioral changes, but they may also lead to important insights into the evolution of social behavior. Post-mating changes in gene regulation in the brains and ovaries of honey bee queens appear to be triggered by different stimuli and may occur on different timescales, potentially allowing changes in the brains and the ovaries to be uncoupled.
In social insects, resource allocation is a key factor that influences colony survival and growth. Optimal allocation to queens and brood is essential for maximum colony productivity, requiring colony members to have information on the total reproductive power in colonies. However, the mechanisms regulating egg production relative to the current labour force for brood care remain poorly known. Recently, a volatile chemical was identified as a termite queen pheromone that inhibits the differentiation of new neotenic reproductives (secondary reproductives developed from nymphs or workers) in Reticulitermes speratus. The same volatile chemical is also emitted by eggs. This queen pheromone would therefore be expected to act as an honest message of the reproductive power about queens. In this study, we examined how the queen pheromone influences the reproductive rate of queens in R. speratus. We compared the number of eggs produced by each queen between groups with and without exposure to artificial queen pheromone. Exposure to the pheromone resulted in a significant decrease in egg production in both single-queen and multiple-queen groups. This is the first report supporting the role of queen pheromones as a signal regulating colony-level egg production, using synthetically derived compounds in a termite.
queen pheromone; egg production; termites; resource allocation
The wax layer covering the insect's cuticle plays an important protective role, as for example, uncontrolled water loss. In social insects, wax production is well-known in some bees that use it for nest building. Curiously, mated-fertile queens of the ant Ectatomma tuberculatum produce an uncommon extra-wax coat and, consequently queens (mated-fertile females) are matte due to such extra cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) coat that covers the cuticle and masks the brightness of the queens' cuticle while gynes (virgin-infertile queens) are shiny. In this study, histological analysis showed differences in the epidermis between fertile (i.e., queens or gynes with highly ovarian activity) and infertile females (gynes or workers with non developed ovaries). In fertile females the epidermis is a single layer of cubic cells found in all body segments whereas in infertile females it is a thin layer of flattened cells. Ultrastructural features showed active secretory tissue from fertile females similar to the glandular epithelium of wax-producing bees (type I gland). Different hypotheses related to the functions of the glandular epithelium exclusive to the E. tuberculatum fertile queens are discussed.
Social insect workers are often capable of reproduction, but will not do so in the presence of a fertile queen. In large societies, queens are expected to produce a pheromone that honestly signals her dominance and/or fertility, to which workers respond by suppressing the development of their ovaries and by preventing other workers from reproducing (worker policing). However, what maintains the honesty of such queen pheromones is still under discussion. The explanation that an honest queen signal evolves simply because it serves the interest of all colony members does not seem to hold, since it is undermined by the fitness benefits of direct reproduction of workers at the individual level. A better explanation may be found in the idea that queen pheromones are difficult to produce for subordinate individuals, either because policing workers attack them, or because queen pheromones are intrinsically costly chemicals. Here, I discuss some of the arguments for and against these hypotheses and the evolutionary scenarios that each would lead to.
social insects; queen pheromone; honest signals; division of labor; worker policing
The selective forces that shape and maintain eusocial societies are an enduring puzzle in evolutionary biology. Ordinarily sterile workers can usually reproduce given the right conditions, so the factors regulating reproductive division of labour may provide insight into why eusociality has persisted over evolutionary time. Queen-produced pheromones that affect worker reproduction have been implicated in diverse taxa, including ants, termites, wasps and possibly mole rats, but to date have only been definitively identified in the honeybee. Using the black garden ant Lasius niger, we isolate the first sterility-regulating ant queen pheromone. The pheromone is a cuticular hydrocarbon that comprises the majority of the chemical profile of queens and their eggs, and also affects worker behaviour, by reducing aggression towards objects bearing the pheromone. We further show that the pheromone elicits a strong response in worker antennae and that its production by queens is selectively reduced following an immune challenge. These results suggest that the pheromone has a central role in colony organization and support the hypothesis that worker sterility represents altruistic self-restraint in response to an honest quality signal.
social insect; cuticular hydrocarbon; queen signal; Lasius niger; handicap
The Cape bee (Apis mellifera capensis) is unique among honeybees in that workers can lay eggs that instead of developing into males develop into females via thelytokous parthenogenesis. We show that this ability allows workers to compete directly with the queen over the production of new queens. Genetic analyses using microsatellites revealed that 23 out of 39 new queens produced by seven colonies were offspring of workers and not the resident queen. Of these, eight were laid by resident workers, but the majority were offspring of parasitic workers from other colonies. The parasites were derived from several clonal lineages that entered the colonies and successfully targeted queen cells for parasitism. Hence, these parasitic workers had the potential to become genetically reincarnated as queens. Of the daughter queens laid by the resident queen, three were produced asexually, suggesting that queens can ‘choose’ to produce daughter queens clonally and thus have the potential for genetic immortality.
Apis mellifera capensis; reproductive parasitism; thelytoky
Physical fights are the usual means of establishing dominance hierarchies in animal societies. This form of dominance behaviour is most strongly expressed in honeybee queens who engage in fights to the death to establish themselves in the colony. Workers can also compete for reproductive dominance resulting in the establishment of stable hierarchies. They do not engage each other physically, but use pheromones that mimic those produced by queens. The dynamics of pheromone production in paired workers suggests that they engage in a pheromonal contest. Because queen pheromones suppress ovary activation, the contest results in the sterility of the loser.
Multiple mating by social insect queens increases the genetic diversity among colony members, thereby reducing intracolony relatedness and lowering the potential inclusive fitness gains of altruistic workers. Increased genetic diversity may be adaptive, however, by reducing the prevalence of disease within a nest. Honeybees, whose queens have the highest levels of multiple mating among social insects, were investigated to determine whether genetic variation helps to prevent chronic infections. I instrumentally inseminated honeybee queens with semen that was either genetically similar (from one male) or genetically diverse (from multiple males), and then inoculated their colonies with spores of Ascosphaera apis, a fungal pathogen that kills developing brood. I show that genetically diverse colonies had a lower variance in disease prevalence than genetically similar colonies, which suggests that genetic diversity may benefit colonies by preventing severe infections.
Social insects offer unique opportunities to test predictions regarding the evolution of cooperation, life histories and communication. Colony founding by groups of unrelated queens, some of which are later killed, may select for selfish reproductive strategies, honest signalling and punishment. Here, we use a brood transfer experiment to test whether cofounding queens of the ant Lasius niger ‘selfishly’ adjust their productivity when sharing the nest with future competitors. We simultaneously analysed queen cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles to investigate whether queens honestly signal their reproductive output or produce dishonest, manipulative signals, providing a novel test of the evolutionary significance of queen pheromones. Queens produced fewer workers when their colony contained ample brood, but only in the presence of competitors, suggesting selfish conservation of resources. Several CHCs correlated with reproductive maturation, and to a lesser extent with productivity; the same hydrocarbons were more abundant on queens that were not killed, suggesting that workers select productive queens using these chemical cues. Our results highlight the role of honest signalling in the evolution of cooperation: whenever cheaters can be reliably identified, they may incur sanctions that reduce the incentive to be selfish.
social insect; queen pheromone; trade-off; cooperation; coercion; sanctions
Group-living species produce signals that alter the behavior and even the physiology of their social partners. Social insects possess especially sophisticated chemical communication systems that govern every aspect of colony life, including the defining feature of eusociality: reproductive division of labor. Current evidence hints at the central importance of queen pheromones, but progress has been hindered by the fact that such pheromones have only been isolated in honeybees. In a pair of papers on the ant Lasius niger, we identified and investigated a queen pheromone regulating worker sterility. The cuticular hydrocarbon 3-methylhentriacontane (3-MeC31) is correlated with queen maturity and fecundity and workers are also more likely to execute surplus queens that have low amounts of this chemical. Experiments with synthetic 3-MeC31 found that it inhibits ovarian development in queenless workers and lowers worker aggression towards objects coated with it. Production of 3-MeC31 by queens was depressed by an experimental immune challenge, and the same chemical was abundant on queenlaid eggs, suggesting that the workers' responses to the queen are conditional on her health and fecundity. Together with other studies, these results indicate that queen pheromones are honest signals of quality that simultaneously regulate multiple social behaviors.
social insect; queen pheromone; fertility signal; cuticular hydrocarbon; social physiology; primer pheromone
Differentiation into castes and reproductive division of labour are a characteristics of eusocial insects. Caste determination occurs at an early stage of larval development in social bees and is achieved via differential nutrition irrespective of the genotype. Workers are usually subordinate to the queen and altruistically refrain from reproduction. Workers of the Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) do not necessarily refrain from reproduction. They have the unique ability to produce female offspring parthenogenetically (thelytoky) and can develop into ‘pseudoqueens’. Although these are morphologically workers, they develop a queen-like phenotype with respect to physiology and behaviour. Thelytoky is determined by a single gene (th) and we show that this gene also influences other traits related to the queen phenotype, including egg production and queen pheromone synthesis. Using 566 microsatellite markers, we mapped this gene to chromosome 13 and identified a candidate locus thelytoky, similar to grainy head (a transcription factor), which has been shown to be highly expressed in queens of eusocial insects. We therefore suggest that this gene is not only important for determining the pseudoqueen phenotype in A. m. capensis workers, but is also of general importance in regulating the gene cascades controlling reproduction and sterility in female social bees.
thelytoky; pleiotropy; Apis mellifera
The division of reproductive labor among group members in insect societies is regulated by "queen pheromones". However, it remains controversial whether these are manipulative, i.e., actively suppress worker reproduction, or honestly signal the fertility status of the queen to which workers react in their own interest by refraining from laying eggs. Manipulative queen control is thought to lead to an evolutionary arms race between queens and workers, resulting in complex queen bouquets that diverge strongly among different populations and species. In contrast, honest signals would evolve more slowly and might therefore differ less strongly within and among species.
We aimed at determining the tempo of the evolution of queen signals in two ways. First, we investigated whether queens of Temnothorax ants are capable of controlling egg laying by workers of their own, closely, and distantly related species. Second, we compared the species- and caste-specific patterns of cuticular hydrocarbons, which are assumed to convey information on reproductive status. In mixed-species colonies, queens were not able to fully suppress egg-laying and male production by workers of unrelated species, while workers did not reproduce under the influence of a queen from their own species. Furthermore, the chemical profiles differed more strongly among queens of different species than among the respective workers.
Our results suggest that cuticular hydrocarbons associated with fecundity are not fully conserved in evolution and evolve slightly faster than worker-specific components in the blend of cuticular hydrocarbons. While this higher rate of evolution might reflect an arms race between queens and workers, the observation that workers still respond to the presence of a queen from another species support the honest signal hypothesis. Future studies need to examine alternative explanations for a higher rate of evolution of queen-specific substances, such as an involvement of such compounds in mating.
Worker honeybees (Apis mellifera) usually only lay eggs when their colony is queenless. However, an extremely rare 'anarchistic' phenotype occurs, in which workers develop functional ovaries and lay large numbers of haploid eggs which develop into adult drones despite the presence of the queen. Studies of such colonies can give important insights into the mechanisms by which worker sterility is maintained in normal colonies. Here we report on the results of a breeding programme which enhanced the frequency of the anarchistic phenotype. Colonies derived from queens inseminated only by worker-laid males showed up to 9% of workers with highly developed ovaries. In these colonies a large proportion of males arose from worker-laid eggs. Colonies headed by queens inseminated with 50% worker-laid drones and 50% queen-laid drones showed variable phenotypes. In most such colonies there was no worker reproduction. In some, many workers had highly developed ovaries, but no worker-laid eggs were reared. In one colony, many worker-laid eggs were reared to maturity. The results suggest that the anarchy phenotype results from a complex interaction of queen genotype, the worker genotype of subfamilies that successfully reproduce and of those that do not, and the external environment.
Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, but in some species each queen mates with numerous males to create a colony with a genetically diverse worker force. The adaptive significance of polyandry by social insect queens remains an evolutionary puzzle. Using the honeybee (Apis mellifera), we tested the hypothesis that polyandry improves a colony's resistance to disease. We established colonies headed by queens that had been artificially inseminated by either one or 10 drones. Later, we inoculated these colonies with spores of Paenibacillus larvae, the bacterium that causes a highly virulent disease of honeybee larvae (American foulbrood). We found that, on average, colonies headed by multiple-drone inseminated queens had markedly lower disease intensity and higher colony strength at the end of the summer relative to colonies headed by single-drone inseminated queens. These findings support the hypothesis that polyandry by social insect queens is an adaptation to counter disease within their colonies.
disease; genetic diversity; honeybees; polyandry; social insects
In social insects, the queen is essential to the functioning and homeostasis of the colony. This influence has been demonstrated to be mediated through pheromone communication. However, the only social insect for which any queen pheromone has been identified is the honey bee (Apis mellifera) with its well-known queen mandibular pheromone (QMP). Although pleiotropic effects on colony regulation are accredited to the QMP, this pheromone does not trigger the full behavioral and physiological response observed in the presence of the queen, suggesting the presence of additional compounds. We tested the hypothesis of a pheromone redundancy in honey bee queens by comparing the influence of queens with and without mandibular glands on worker behavior and physiology.
Demandibulated queens had no detectable (E)-9-oxodec-2-enoic acid (9-ODA), the major compound in QMP, yet they controlled worker behavior (cell construction and queen retinue) and physiology (ovary inhibition) as efficiently as intact queens.
We demonstrated that the queen uses other pheromones as powerful as QMP to control the colony. It follows that queens appear to have multiple active compounds with similar functions in the colony (pheromone redundancy). Our findings support two hypotheses in the biology of social insects: (1) that multiple semiochemicals with synonymous meaning exist in the honey bee, (2) that this extensive semiochemical vocabulary exists because it confers an evolutionary advantage to the colony.
Depending on their larval environment, female honeybees develop into either queens or workers. As in other polyphenisms, this developmental switch depends not on genomic differences between queens and workers but on the differential expression of entire suites of genes involved with larval fate. As such, this and other polyphenic systems can provide a novel tool for understanding how genomes and environmental conditions interact to produce different developmental trajectories. Here we use gene-expression profiles during honeybee caste determination to present the first genomic view of polyphenic development.
Larvae raised as queens or workers differed greatly in their gene-expression patterns. Workers remained more faithful than queens to the expression profiles of younger, bipotential, larvae. Queens appeared to both downregulate many of the genes expressed by bipotential larvae and turn on a distinct set of caste-related genes. Queens overexpressed several metabolic enzymes, workers showed increased expression of a member of the cytochrome P450 family, hexameric storage proteins and dihydrodiol dehydrogenase, and young larvae overexpressed two putative heat-shock proteins (70 and 90 kDa), and several proteins related to RNA processing and translation.
Large differences in gene expression between queens and workers indicate that social insect castes have faced strong directional selection pressures. Overexpression of metabolic enzymes by queen-destined larvae appears to reflect the enhanced growth rate of queens during late larval development. Many of the differently expressed genes we identified have been tied to metabolic rates and cellular responses to hormones, a result consistent with known physiological differences between queen and worker larvae.
Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, but in some species each queen mates with numerous males to create a colony whose workers belong to multiple patrilines. This colony genetic structure creates a potential for intracolonial nepotism. One context with great potential for such nepotism arises in species, like honey bees, whose colonies reproduce by fissioning. During fissioning, workers might nepotistically choose between serving a young (sister) queen or the old (mother) queen, preferring the former if she is a full-sister but the latter if the young queen is only a half-sister. We examined three honeybee colonies that swarmed, and performed paternity analyses on the young (immature) queens and samples of workers who either stayed with the young queens in the nest or left with the mother queen in the swarm. For each colony, we checked whether patrilines represented by immature queens had higher proportions of staying workers than patrilines not represented by immature queens. We found no evidence of this. The absence of intracolonial nepotism during colony fissioning could be because the workers cannot discriminate between full-sister and half-sister queens when they are immature, or because the costs of behaving nepotistically outweigh the benefits.
Apis mellifera; genetic relatedness; honeybee; kin recognition; intracolonial nepotism; queen rearing; swarming
Honeybee (Apis mellifera) exhibits divisions in both morphology and reproduction. The queen is larger in size and fully developed sexually, while the worker bees are smaller in size and nearly infertile. To better understand the specific time and underlying molecular mechanisms of caste differentiation, the proteomic profiles of larvae intended to grow into queen and worker castes were compared at 72 and 120 hours using two dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE), network, enrichment and quantitative PCR analysis. There were significant differences in protein expression between the two larvae castes at 72 and 120 hours, suggesting the queen and the worker larvae have already decided their fate before 72 hours. Specifically, at 72 hours, queen intended larvae over-expressed transketolase, aldehyde reductase, and enolase proteins which are involved in carbohydrate metabolism and energy production, imaginal disc growth factor 4 which is a developmental related protein, long-chain-fatty-acid CoA ligase and proteasome subunit alpha type 5 which metabolize fatty and amino acids, while worker intended larvae over-expressed ATP synthase beta subunit, aldehyde dehydrogenase, thioredoxin peroxidase 1 and peroxiredoxin 2540, lethal (2) 37 and 14-3-3 protein epsilon, fatty acid binding protein, and translational controlled tumor protein. This differential protein expression between the two caste intended larvae was more pronounced at 120 hours, with particular significant differences in proteins associated with carbohydrate metabolism and energy production. Functional enrichment analysis suggests that carbohydrate metabolism and energy production and anti-oxidation proteins play major roles in the formation of caste divergence. The constructed network and validated gene expression identified target proteins for further functional study. This new finding is in contrast to the existing notion that 72 hour old larvae has bipotential and can develop into either queen or worker based on epigenetics and can help us to gain new insight into the time of departure as well as caste trajectory influencing elements at the molecular level.
We study male parentage and between-colony variation in sex allocation and sexual production in the desert ant Crematogaster smithi, which usually has only one singly-mated queen per nest. Colonies of this species are known to temporarily store nutrients in the large fat body of intermorphs, a specialized female caste intermediate in morphology between queens and workers. Intermorphs repackage at least part of this fat into consumable but viable male-destined eggs. If these eggs sometimes develop instead of being eaten, intermorphs will be reproductive competitors of the queen but—due to relatedness asymmetries—allies of their sister worker. Using genetic markers we found a considerable proportion of non-queen sons in some, but not all, colonies. Even though intermorphs produce ∼1.7× more eggs than workers, their share in the parentage of adult males is estimated to be negligible due to their small number compared to workers. Furthermore, neither colony-level sex allocation nor overall sexual production was correlated with intermorph occurrence or number. We conclude that intermorph-laid eggs typically do not survive and that the storage of nutrients and their redistribution as eggs by intermorphs is effectively altruistic.
Reproductive competition in social insects is generally mediated through specific fertility pheromones. By analysing Dufour's gland secretion in queens and workers of Bombus terrestris under varying social conditions, we demonstrate here that the volatile constituents of the secretion exhibit a context-dependent composition. The secretion of egg-laying queens is composed of a series of aliphatic hydrocarbons (alkanes and alkenes), while that of sterile workers contains in addition octyl esters, dominated by octyl hexadecanoate and octyl oleate. These esters disappear in workers with developed ovaries, whether queenright (QR) or queenless (QL), rendering their secretion queen-like. This constitutes an unusual case in which the sterile caste, rather than the fertile one, possesses extra components. Individually isolated (socially deprived) workers developed ovaries successfully, but failed to oviposit, and still possessed the octyl esters. Thus, whereas social interactions are not needed in order to develop ovaries, they appear essential for oviposition and compositional changes in Dufour's gland secretion (ester disappearance). The apparent link between high ester levels and an inability to lay eggs lends credence to the hypothesis that these esters signal functional sterility. We hypothesize that by producing a sterility-specific secretion, workers signal that ‘I am out of the competition’, and therefore are not attacked, either by the queen or by the reproductive workers. This enables proper colony function and brood care, in particular sexual brood, even under the chaotic conditions of the competition phase.
Bombus terrestris; Dufour gland; reproduction; workers' sterility; fertility signals
Caste polyphenism in social insects provides us with excellent opportunities to examine the plasticity and robustness underlying developmental pathways. Several ant species have evolved unusual castes showing intermediate morphologies between alate queens and wingless workers. In some low-temperature habitats, the ant Myrmecina nipponica produces such intermediate reproductives (i.e. ergatoids), which can mate and store sperm but cannot fly. To gain insight into the developmental and evolutionary aspects associated with ergatoid production, we conducted morphological and histological examinations of the post-embryonic development of compound eyes, gonads and wings during the process of caste differentiation. In compound eyes, both the queen-worker and ergatoid-worker differences were already recognized at the third larval instar. In gonads, queen-worker differentiation began at the larval stage, and ergatoid-worker differentiation began between the prepupal and pupal stages. Wing development in ergatoids was generally similar to that in workers throughout post-embryonic development. Our results showed that the developmental rate and timing of differentiation in body parts differed among castes and among body parts. These differences suggest that the rearrangement of modular body parts by heterochronic developmental regulation is responsible for the origination of novel castes, which are considered to be adaptations to specific ecological niches.
caste development; heterochrony; imaginal primordia; modularity; social insect