, Volume 95, Issue 5, pp 403-412
Date: 09 Jan 2008

Identification of cuticular lipids eliciting interspecific courtship in the German cockroach, Blattella germanica

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The cuticular surface of sexually mature females of the German cockroach contains a sex pheromone that, upon contact with the male’s antennae, elicits a characteristic species-specific courtship behavior. This female-specific pheromone is a blend of several long-chain methyl ketones, alcohols and aldehydes, all derived from prominent cuticular hydrocarbons found in all life stages of this cockroach. We found that contact with the antennae of 5 out of 20 assayed cockroach species elicited courtship behavior in German cockroach males. The heterospecific courtship-eliciting compounds were isolated by behaviorally guided fractionation of the active crude extracts and compared to the native sex pheromone components. We identified two active compounds from the cuticular extract of the Oriental cockroach, Blatta orientalis—11-methylheptacosan-2-one and 27-oxo-11-methylheptacosan-2-one; the former compound was confirmed by synthesis and proved to independently stimulate courtship in German cockroach males. These compounds share common features with, but are distinct from, any of the known contact sex pheromone components. This suggests that sex pheromone reception in the male German cockroach is unusually promiscuous, accepting a wide range of compounds that share certain features with its native pheromone, thus resulting in a broad spectrum of behavioral response to other species. We propose that several characteristics of their mating system—chiefly, absence of closely related species in the anthropogenic environment, resulting in relaxation of selection on sexual communication, and a highly male-biased operational sex ratio—have driven males to respond with extremely low thresholds to a wide spectrum of related compounds.