A conserved fertility signal despite population variation in the cuticular chemical profile of the trap-jaw ant Odontomachus brunneus

Adrian A. Smith, Jocelyn G. Millar, Lawrence M. Hanks, Andrew V. Suarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Contact pheromones in the form of cuticular hydrocarbons are widespread among insects. Eusocial insects present a special challenge for understanding the evolution of the cuticular hydrocarbon profile because this blend is responsible for multiple distinct roles such as nestmate recognition and signalling fertility status. This study investigates these two signalling roles of the hydrocarbon profile in the trap-jaw ant Odontomachus brunneus. We demonstrate that the cuticular hydrocarbon profile is highly variable across populations and provide evidence that these differences are used for nestmate discrimination. Through manipulative experiments we also show that (Z)-9-nonacosene (Z9:C29) is used as a fertility signal and its role is conserved across populations. Our data demonstrate that both fertility and nestmate signalling influence the cuticular hydrocarbon profile and specifically the relative abundance of Z9:C29 on the cuticle of O. brunneus. Our study suggests that natural selection works on the cuticular chemical profile through multiple regulatory pathways, diversifying nestmate signals while conserving fertility signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3917-3924
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013



  • Cuticular hydrocarbons
  • Fertility signal
  • Nestmate recognition
  • Phenotypic variation
  • Pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

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