Journal of chemical ecology vol:32 issue:9 pages:2023-2034
In ca. 150 species of queenless ants, a specialized queen caste is rare or absent, and mated workers take over the role of the queen in some or all of the colonies. Previously, it has been shown that reproduction in queenless ants is regulated by a combination of dominance behavior and chemical fertility signaling. It is unknown, however, whether chemical signals alone can sufficiently regulate reproduction. To investigate this possibility, we studied reproductive regulation in the facultatively queenless ant Gnamptogenys striatula, a species where dominance behavior is rare or absent. Active egg layers and infertile workers showed qualitative and quantitative differences in their cuticular hydrocarbon profile. Five long-chain methyl alkanes, 3,13- and 3,15-dimethyl pentriacontane, 3,13- and 3,15-dimethyl heptentriacontane, and 3,11,15-trimethyl heptentriacontane occurred only on the cuticles of virgin and mated egg layers. Pronounced quantitative differences were found in a further 27 alkenes; alkanes; and mono-, di-, and trimethyl alkanes. Workers that had recently stopped laying eggs had profiles similar to infertile workers, and mating status did not affect this chemical pattern. We conclude that the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of G. striatula workers provide reliable information about their current fertility. In the interest of colony productivity, this allows reproduction to be regulated without the use of aggression.