A social insect fertility signal is dependent on chemical context

Adrian A. Smith, Jocelyn G. Millar, Andrew V. Suarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying group members and individuals' status within a group are fundamental tasks in animal societies. For ants, this information is coded in the cuticular hydrocarbon profile. We manipulated profiles of the ant Odontomachus brunneus to examine whether the releaser and primer effects of fertility signals are dependent on chemical context. Fertility status is signalled through increased abundance of (Z)-9-nonacosene (Z9 : C29). Across the ant's distribution, populations have distinct hydrocarbon profiles but the fertility signal is conserved. Foreign queens and fertility-signal-treated workers from the same population, sharing a similar chemical background, elicited releaser effects from workers, whereas queens and fertility-signal-treated workers from different populations did not. Z9 : C29 presented without chemical background did not elicit releaser effects. A primer-effect experiment found that Z9 : C29, presented without a chemical background, did not inhibit worker reproduction. Our results demonstrate that a familiar chemical background is necessary for appropriate responses to fertility signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20140947
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Cuticular hydrocarbon
  • Fertility signal
  • Queen pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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